Business Quarterly: Despite inflation, tourists are still coming

  • A few visitors swim at Greenfield State Park on Friday afternoon. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/29/2022 11:00:51 AM
Modified: 7/29/2022 10:57:48 AM

Local Realtor Kevin Hampsey rents out vacation homes in the Jaffrey area. He explained that people who vacation here say they want to be submerged in nature way out in the wilderness to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

But “they don’t mean that,” Hampsey said. “They want to enjoy our lakes and ponds, but they still want to enjoy nightlife.” They want to go out to eat or go to a show at The Park Theatre and have high-speed WiFi in their cabin.

“We have that here going for us,” he said. “We have enough going on in Peterborough, First Friday nights, concerts. Jaffrey has concerts on the common.”

And Hampsey believes this has been a huge draw to the region this summer. He has noticed that people are not traveling as far; most of his renters are coming from Massachusetts and Connecticut, rather than flying across the country to vacation, but he has been steadily booked out.

It is Cranberry Meadow Farm’s second year in operation, and owner and chef Carolyn Hough said, “We’ve been busier this summer than last.”

Hough took in a few guests who had been planning to stay at the Hancock Inn before it closed for renovations this summer, and she has had a lot of wedding parties rent out rooms, so they’ve been booked. Hough said a number of couples have stayed at the bed-and-breakfast while they look at properties in the region.

“Others come here to see family or climb [Mount] Monadnock,” she said.

Hough agrees with Hampsey that people want to have things to do in town while they are visiting, and has also heard that tourists are looking for a wider selection of restaurants and shopping.

“People come up here for all different reasons. We need more to offer them,” she said.

Hampsey said a lot of vacation rentals have been sold in the last couple years, and demand for houses has been higher than supply as an influx of people have moved to this area willing to pay increased prices for real estate. It was an opportunity for renters to sell their vacation properties for a good price. He said the market has slowed down a bit, but is still going strong, except for commercial real estate. With many people still working from home, businesses don’t need big office spaces anymore. Some are being converted to rentals.

Hampsey said it’s not just a shortage of homes, but also long-term rentals, and locals are struggling to keep up with rising rents while their wages aren’t being increased to compensate. New Hampshire’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Hampsey and Hough have both had to adjust for inflation by raising their prices.

“I had to raise rent for the first time in years,” Hampsey said.

Hough thinks people are willing to pay more for a trip this year, because even with higher prices, they are desperate to travel.

“We’re not losing guests because of it,” she said.

Attendance slows at state parks

State parks, on the other hand, have had a slower year than they had in 2020 and 2021. And there could be multiple reasons for this drop in visitors.

“Weather plays a big factor,” said Norma Reppucci said, park manager for Miller State Park in Peterborough. “A lot of people are staying closer to home.”

She believes that there is an economic factor contributing to the decline, as due to higher gas prices, people farther from Peterborough may opt not to drive to the park in favor of a closer hiking spot.

Alec Woolley, park manager for Greenfield State Park, has also noticed a drop in guests this year. But he’s “not sure if it’s inflation or other things are just opening up.” Last summer and the summer before, a lot of vacation options weren’t available or safe, so people were drawn to camping and the outdoors. This year is a little different, as things have opened up.

“Everyone jokes about gas prices when they get here,” he said, but the weekends have been busy and Woolley believes “more people are getting accustomed to the outdoors” after being introduced to camping within the last couple years.

This season, Woolley has noticed that “people are hanging out in their campsites more.” Perhaps this is due to saving money on gas or dinners out, but he can’t be sure.

Reppucci and Woolley both observed a lot of visitors in 2020 when other New England states had closed their parks and people were trying to get out of their homes in cities.

“We were kind of expecting to be overrun like we were last year, but we haven’t been,” said Will Kirkpatrick, park manager of Monadnock State Park. “It’s considerably down from last year.”

Kirkpatrick wonders, however, if this just means that after the spike in 2020 and 2021, things are just settling back down to the levels they were before.

“The vast majority of our folks come from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont,” Kirkpatrick said, and while he has seen license plates from much farther away in the parking lot, he’s not sure if these climbers are coming from those states or if they are driving rental cars.

Mount Monadnock is one of the most-hiked mountains in the world, and Kirkpatrick hasn’t necessarily noticed a decline in people driving from farther away to trek up to the summit, but said it’s the middle of the season and it’s hard to tell.

Miller State Park is the oldest state park in New Hampshire, established in 1891. A historic marker was just installed on the peak and Reppucci thinks this will attract hikers.

“I know it’s going to bring people in,” she said. Some people make it a goal to visit every historic marker in New Hampshire, and other people may decide to hike up to get a photo.

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