The Fourth of July is always a big event for visitors in Boston, with the Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade, the fireworks extravaganza, Harborfest, and the USS Constitution’s annual turnaround.
But this was no typical Fourth of July. For one, there were a host of other big-ticket events in town this week, the largest of which was the Navy Week festivities that brought many tall ships to town.
But the holiday fell on a Wednesday, raising concerns that it would not draw well because many would not use the holiday to extend a long weekend.
“It was a perfect storm,” said Pat Moscaritolo, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But it turned out to be a positive perfect storm.”
Preliminary numbers show that the week is exceeding expectations. Moscaritolo said they had been predicting a 4.5 percent increase in the number of visitors over a typical July Fourth week, but early estimates suggest the number will jump 9 percent.
Economically, that would translate to a $60 million to $75 million increase in tourist spending over a typical Fourth of July week, he said.
To lure additional visitors, he estimated, the city and state spent $2 million to $3 million on marketing, promotion, police, and emergency medical services. The costs for the fireworks and Esplanade concert are funded by a nonprofit, Boston 4 Celebrations Foundation, run by David Mugar.
“The bottom line for us is that it demonstrates the power of special-event activities as a way to drive visitors, even in uncertain times,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen these kinds of smiles on the faces of people who work in the visitor industry.”
The midweek holiday, instead of inhibiting visitors,created two waves of them, Moscaritolo said: one comprised of tourists who came last weekend and stayed through the Fourth, and those who arrived on the Fourth and will stay through this weekend.
Hotel occupancy, typically about 80 percent in Boston and Cambridge at this time of year, will be closer to 85 or 86 percent, he said.
One of the big draws was the Navy Week festivities to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Lieutenant John Ripley, a spokesman for Boston Navy Week, said the 20 ships anchored in the harbor had drawn nearly 234,000 visitors through Wednesday. Many of those ships will be here until Friday, so he expected that number to grow substantially.
“All week, each of the tall ships has been at capacity in terms of the number of visitors,” said Bill Armstrong, communications director for Operation Sail, the organization that coordinated the tall ships portion of Navy Week. He said Boston has been the most successful port on the six-city tour, which included New York City and New Orleans.
Preliminary surveys by the Convention & Visitors Bureau have found that the vast majority of visitors were from New England, a fact attributed to the recent drop in gas prices and the fact that most of the events were free to the public.
The week was seen by officials as a chance to build on Boston’s brand – traditionally history and culture – by exposing visitors, and even locals, to the new Boston waterfront and the developing Seaport District.
“Nobody knew about Castle Island until the tall ships came [in 1976],” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “This is the same thing. Nobody knew how the waterfront is being developed. Now they’re going down there and seeing the progress we’re making. It’s a new venture. There’s a new heart of Boston that people haven’t been to in the past.”
Matt Frattarolli, 42, who works at a software company in one of the old drydocks, brought his kids to the waterfront on Thursday to visit some of the Navy Week vessels.
“This is Boston’s greatest asset,” he said. “It’s nice to see it finally accessible. The waterfront used to just be mud plots, but this is great.”
Moscaritolo said the hope is that the exposure will pay dividends for the future of the waterfront. “People don’t generally associate Boston with being a waterfront city, but that is all happening now,” he said. “And some of those people will come back later, maybe with family and friends, and experience this additional part, add this in with walking the Freedom Trail and all the historic sites.”