North Conway, NH: A survey of the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce (MWVCC) membership comparing Christmas Vacation Week and New Year’s Eve 2009 with 2008, revealed cautiously optimistic results for area businesses. While responses were mixed, a slight majority of businesses responding to the survey were positive about the outcome of the Christmas/New Year’s week, despite the unpredictable New England weather. A downpour to start Christmas vacation week had many businesses apprehensive of how snow-seekers might respond, however several smaller storms throughout the week provided the snow that fueled visits to Mt. Washington Valley, NH for skiing, snowmobiling and other outdoor adventure.
According to the MWVCC survey distributed on Friday, January 1, more than half of the survey respondents (52 percent) claimed that business either stayed the same or increased over last year. “Our outside dining guests increased over Christmas and New Years,” reported Ibby Cooper, owner of Inn at Thorn Hill & Spa in Jackson, NH.
Additionally, 61 percent of the survey respondents stated that the number of paying guests either increased or stayed the same during Christmas Week 2009 as compared with 2008, with 53.8 percent of those respondents reporting an increase. Additionally, 50 percent of respondents stated that business during New Year’s Eve 2009 was either up or stayed the same from last year, 29 percent of which stated that business increased over last year. Catherine Smith, owner of Wine Thyme located in North Conway Village commented; “We doubled our sales for this day in both the retail store and restaurant.” According to members surveyed, 63.5 percent reported that the number of paying guests for New Year’s Eve 2009 either increased or stayed the same compared to 2008, with 27 percent reporting that paying guests increased. Howard Stanten from The Met in North Conway Village commented; “We were up 30% over last year at The Met”. “We were steady all day, had a great draw for our live music, and then of course got really busy between 8:00 and 9:30pm. At 8:00-8:30 p.m., people started really streaming into the village, many with ski tags on their jackets from Cranmore Mountain Resort. The Wine Thyme outdoor “ice bar” started slowly but the patio eventually appeared packed. It looks like that was very successful at least from appearances,” he finished.
Other businesses noted a slower start on New Year’s Day, attributing the decrease in morning customers to late night partying on New Year’s Eve. Peter Gagne at Northern Extremes Sports and Recreation also commented on a slower start New Year’s Day but noted they had great snowmobile rental business in the afternoon.
According to the survey, 61.7 percent of lodging businesses reported that room occupancies either stayed the same or increased over last year’s holiday week, additionally 38.5 percent of businesses reported that paying guests increased over last year. “Our occupancy rate at the inn was approximately the same [compared to 2008] but we are busier with our sleigh rides than last year as well as winter horseback riding,” commented Charlene Browne, Co-owner of Farm by the River B and B with Stables.
Some lodging members reported as much as a 9 percent increase in 2009 over Christmas vacation week 2008, attributing increases in overnight guests to offering “stay and play” packages as well as New Year’s Eve parties. Those businesses reporting a decrease in spending for the week attributed decreases to unpredictable weather conditions, forecasted storms, and continued decreases in spending due to the economy.
Siiri Grubb, Communications Manager of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce reported that traffic throughout vacation week was heavy in Mt. Washington Valley and inquiries of New Year’s Eve festivities rang in steadily in the days leading up to the events. “Traffic heading into North Conway Village was steady throughout the week, however we did notice an increase on Wednesday and Thursday leading up to New Year’s Eve,” observed Grubb. “This year, North Conway Village welcomed back its New Year’s Eve festival with help and support from area businesses, and I think this really gave visitors a reason to stay here through the New Year,” She finished.
The threat of major snowstorms increased calls to the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce’s offices in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. “The snowstorms seemed to excite visitors more than deter them, as I think visitors and residents alike were ready kick off the winter season, said Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce Visitor Services personnel, Janet Durkee-Prescott. “Mt. Washington Valley is known for some of the best skiing and riding in the East, in addition to the multitude of winter activities we have to offer and I think that was a determining factor in why so many visitors chose to stay in Mt. Washington Valley this Christmas vacation week,” said Durkee-Prescott.
In general, businesses seemed cautiously encouraged with Christmas Week, and attributed any downshift in business to the unpredictable weather and nagging economic conditions; 40 percent of the survey respondents observed that less favorable weather was a factor for changes seen from vacation week 2009 compared to last year. Terry O’Brien, Owner of the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub commented, “The media’s hype on the “blizzard” for Saturday hurt our business. Many people left a day early.” Other businesses echoed the sentiment that the predicted blizzard for the weekend ending vacation week precipitated an early leave for vacationers who wished to beat the storm. While the Mt Washington Valley received snow, especially in the notches, roads were clear and travel conditions were easy. Area business also reported that increased marketing, “stay and play” packages as well as the North Conway Village Association’s New Year’s Eve festivities and fireworks led to a more successful vacation week. “Some of our success this week was attributed to our first full year of operation, our web site was launched in November also helping to attract additional reservations. The [MWV] Chamber website was helpful, village branding, North Conway Village advertising, hard work and of course fireworks New Year’s Eve,” commented Catherine Smith of Wine Thyme.
When asked what changes respondents observed for Christmas vacation week 2009 versus 2008, 54.4 percent of respondents said they welcomed more families and groups, where the amount of international travelers remained about the same as last year. Comments showed that there were less young singles in the Valley, but families remained constant. In fact large family groups were cited among a number of respondents as contributing to an increase in business.
Looking forward, 59 percent of the survey respondents forecasted that sales will either increase or stay the same as last year for the upcoming Massachusetts and New Hampshire February vacation weeks, based on advanced reservations, new events, special sales, packages and promotions developed. After a largely successful Christmas vacation week, Mt Washington Valley’s seven alpine resorts and six cross country are open for the season, offering a 2010 events calendar full of family friendly activities and the promise of more snow. Yet, with the tight economy, and a season dependent on the cooperation of Mother Nature, businesses remain cautious. Survey respondents noted that visitors are looking for the best deals and money saving offers to get the most out of their vacation funds. In fact, 22 percent of the survey respondents predict that business will decrease over last year’s winter season, and many concur that it’s just too early to predict, according to the MWVCC survey.
The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce will continue to entice visitors with wallet-saver midweek ski packages and a plethora of winter activities that won’t break the bank. For more information about these packages, vacation planning resources or on visiting Mt Washington Valley , visit www.Mtwashingtonvalley.org or call 1-800-DO-SEE-NH (800-367-3364).