CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Soaring gas prices and rainy weather appear to be taking a bite out tourism in Northern New England.

One indicator of a tourism slump is a drop in revenues collected in New Hampshire from its tax on restaurant meals and hotel rooms.

New Hampshire collected about $300,000 less last month than the same time a year ago. The news was worse in June when revenues were $2 million less than the previous June, according to Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon.

Bob Preston, of Preston Real Estate in Hampton Beach and Seabrook Beach, blames the rain for keeping people away.

“It’s the weather,” said Preston, who is seeing people shortening their stays in the cottages, condos and apartments he rents out. “The weather is killing us. If the sun would just come out and stay out, people would come out to the beach.”

It rained 16 days in July, including five out of 10 weekend days, said Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He said it rained 17 days in June.

But it only rained nine days in May, which may explain why the state collected $500,000 more from the tax than in May 2007.

“The repeat customers are what’s keeping Hampton Beach going,” said Preston, whose rentals are down 5-to-10 percent this summer. “It’s not just the gas. It’s the gas, it’s the groceries, it’s the heat bill.”

The Sise Inn in Portsmouth is seeing an increase in European and Canadian guests, said general manager Diane Hodun.

However, room rentals are down about 10 percent from last year, said Hodun, who blames the poor economy and the rain.

Another tourism indicator – traffic – also hasn’t been the same this year.

In July, traffic was about 7 percent less than the same month last year, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

In Maine, traffic on the state’s turnpike, the main route into the state from other eastern states, also has lessened, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Still, Maine tourism officials were encouraged by sales tax revenue figures from May, which showed revenue from restaurants up 4 percent and revenue from lodging up 9 percent.

Pat Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, acknowledged that “these are challenging times” and that there are likely some areas in Maine that are not doing well this summer. But she said Maine is a “drive-to market” and people don’t give up their vacations because gasoline costs a half dollar more per gallon.

The state hoped for a strong showing from Canadian tourists due to the strong Canadian dollar and the state’s $230,000 marketing campaign in New Brunswick, Quebec and Nova Scotia, Maine tourism officials said.

Not everything is bleak in New Hampshire.

Stephanie Antonucci, a spokeswoman for the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa in the White Mountains, said business was up almost 200 percent this July over last year.

“We had the busiest July the hotel had ever had,” said Antonucci, who attributed the rise to the hotel’s many amenities, including a complementary children’s program and farm on the property. “Our numbers are up significantly over last year.”

Mark Okrant, director of the Institute for New Hampshire Studies, cautioned that it’s too early to tell whether tourism is actually trending down.

He said it is hard to separate how much of New Hampshire’s tax is on renting rooms and how much is on restaurant meals, which captures dining by residents as well as tourists.

There also are places like Lake Opechee Inn & Spa in Laconia, where business has stayed the same.

“People are just waiting a little longer to make their plans,” said Lake Opechee sales and operations manager Jake Ogley. “Instead of making their plans three months ahead, they’re making them thirty days in advance or waiting until the last minute.”

AP-ES-08-04-08 1626EDT


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