OLD ORCHARD BEACH (AP) – A week’s worth of the hot and sunny weather tourists expect when they come to Maine has the state’s hospitality industry hoping for a rebound from the lows of early summer.

“May and June were absolutely lousy, and July was nothing to jump up and down about,” said Vaughn Stinson, executive director of the Maine Tourism Association. “We need a strong finish for August and September. For us, that bread and butter is that August month.”

Travel experts predicted a 4 percent increase in Maine tourism for 2004. Although sales at restaurants and hotels were up 2 percent on an annual basis, the all-important summer season got off to a slow start.

Lodging receipts were down 11 percent in May compared to last year, and restaurants fell 5 percent, state tax data showed.

The poor showing seemed even worse in light of optimistic predictions, said Greg Dugal, director of the Maine Innkeepers Association.

“If somebody tells you everything’s going to be great and not only is it not great, it isn’t very good at all, it throws people off,” he said.

The chilly, overcast weather that seemed to last from June through mid-July didn’t help matters. For the month of July, the National Weather Service in Gray recorded five fewer sunny days, 3.5 more inches of rain, and an average temperature four degrees lower than last year.

“The beginning of June was awful, the weather was ridiculous,” said Anita Toussaint, 63, who with her husband has run the Windsor Cabins at Old Orchard Beach for 19 years.

Although the summer began badly, Toussaint said business has picked up in recent weeks.

“July wasn’t bad,” she said. “Every weekend we were full, during the week it was about half.”

Although tourism in northern Maine has been off by up to 15 percent, Stinson said there have been exceptions. Attendance at the visitor center in Calais was up 70 percent, with many drawn by celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of St. Croix.

While some Bar Harbor hotels said this summer’s business compared favorably to previous years, others were hurting. Paul Lymburner, 52, said his Dreamwood Pines Motel grossed 70 percent less in July compared to last year. Four miles outside Bar Harbor, his 22 rooms were one-third full during the first week of August.

“I’m losing my shirt,” he said. “This is my 31st year as an innkeeper in Bar Harbor, and I have never seen anything like this.”

Besides the weather, terrorism fears and high gas prices were also working to keep visitors away, Stinson said. And the move away from weeklong vacations means people are more comfortable calling off their weekend getaways.

“They start looking at the Weather Channel on Monday and if they don’t like what they see, they begin canceling their reservations,” he said.

Preliminary numbers from the York tolls showed traffic on the Maine Turnpike was down 0.5 percent in July compared to last year, with an average of 295 fewer vehicles each day. Total turnpike traffic for July was up 0.6 percent.

Although Stinson predicted a strong August and September could lead to a 2 percent overall gain on last year’s tourism numbers, others were less optimistic.

“It’s been a tough year,” Dugal said. “I have a hard time believing the industry as a whole is going to have a better year than last year.”



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