MARTHA’S VINEYARD — The last few years the first family has vacationed here, the press corps filled the rooms at the Mansion House, creating what the hotel’s owner, Susan Goldstein, likes to call “our very own Vineyard recovery package.”
But with the Obamas staying away this summer, Goldstein had to come up with her own stimulus plan to make sure her 48-room hotel would be bustling in August — especially with business on the island still down compared to before the recession.
So she sent an e-mail to many of her past guests offering to help create their own “presidential visit” — complete with a free bottle of prosecco and a $100 gift certificate to the hotel’s restaurant. The e-mail garnered enough response, Goldstein said, to hedge the hotel’s bets for August bookings.
“Indeed, some people are booking twice in a summer,” Goldstein said. “They’re coming back.”
Goldstein, like others dependent on the island’s summer tourist economy, is trying every way she can to bring people to the Vineyard in the hopes that they open their wallets at least as much or even a little wider than they did last year.
A summer without presidential guests hasn’t yet cast a pall over the island’s economy. The area’s mild spring has helped this year, drawing tourists to the Vineyard earlier than usual, business owners say, while continued good weather has also been a boon.
On a recent weekday, vacationers and island residents mingled on the Vineyard’s streets, stopping in for a treat at the Murdick’s Fudge shop in Vineyard Haven, playing in the arcade on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, and shopping at GettiGear, an athletic clothing store for women in Edgartown.
Laura Fisher, GettiGear president, said her Vineyard store saw an increase in June sales from the same time last year, and have been stable this month.
“We’ve already had a lot of people come back from last year,” she said. “We did like three times as much [business] on the Fourth [of July] this year, so if that’s any indication, we’ll have a good year.”
At the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, executive director Nancy Gardella said the phones ring constantly with queries from travelers looking for hotel recommendations and referrals on where to stay and what to do. Each summer, the island’s population blossoms with visitors, growing from 15,000 year-round residents to 125,000 people.
“There are advanced bookings all the way around,” Gardella said of the hotel and ferry reservations that help determine the number of visitors the island can expect.
For the last few years, President Obama’s presence has helped fill hotel rooms and rental houses with Secret Service members and press, as well as draw looky-loos hoping to catch a glimpse of the first family. Island business owners say they expect to see just as many people here next month, but they are hoping the crowd will be different — fewer day-trippers who tend to travel on the cheap and more vacationers who rent hotel rooms and houses for weeks and spend their days dining and shopping.
“While we love our day-trippers because those are the people who start to fall in love with Martha’s Vineyard,” Gardella said, “it’s really the ‘heads and beds’ that make or break Martha’s Vineyard, and here tourism is our sole industry.”