HYANNIS — On a sun-splashed holiday weekend, New Englanders flocked to coastal destinations in droves, a sign of a growing consumer confidence that buoyed hotel and shop owners with hopes of a resurgent summer.
“It was a sellout weekend,” said Skip Simpson, owner of the Anchor In on Hyannis Harbor. “It hasn’t always been that way.”
Simpson said the inn’s 42 rooms were booked about a week ago, a welcome sign for the season ahead.
“There wasn’t anybody in Hyannis that wasn’t full,” Terri Noyes, co-owner of the SeaCoast Inn, said Monday.
As the unofficial start to summer, the weekend serves as a closely watched barometer for tourism, and early indications appeared positive. Coastal destinations from Portsmouth, N.H., to Provincetown drew crowds, and businesses reported generally strong sales.
On Cape Cod, where summer sales are often make or break, shops and restaurants saw heavy turnout over the beautiful weekend.
“It’s a great start for the summer,” said Candice Collins-Boden, who directs the Chamber of Commerce in Provincetown. “The ferries and the streets were full.”
With the economy showing signs of improvement, however modest, consumers seem to have regained some measure of confidence, business owners said. While many continue to watch their finances closely, others are spending more freely, initial returns suggested. At least while on vacation.
“There’s a different attitude this year,” Collins-Boden said. “It’s more relaxed, more hopeful.”
In Portsmouth, reservations for restaurants and hotels went quickly, and by Friday afternoon the center of town was filled with visitors. Under sunny skies, seats at waterside restaurants were hard to come by, and beaches along the New Hampshire coast were crowded.
“It’s been packed,” said Valerie Rochon, tourism manager for the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.
In Maine, popular spots from Kittery to Bar Harbor were crowded, with businesses reporting sharp increases from a year ago. Vaughn Stinson of the Maine Tourism Association credited the pleasant weather, lower gas prices, and Maine’s relative affordability for the boost.
Massachusetts’ state parks and beaches were busy, with many camping sites near or at capacity.
The boost in tourists fell in line with predictions, which said encouraging economic trends and improved consumer confidence would spur more people to travel. In their forecast for the holiday weekend, AAA and IHS Global Insight projected that 34.8 million people would travel at least 50 miles from home, a 1.2 percent increase over last Memorial Day weekend.
On Cape Cod, local businesses welcomed the additional customers.
“[Business] has been much better,” said Douglas Warren, who owns 4 Seas Homemade Ice Cream in Centerville. “I’m not sure if it’s the economy or the good weather. It seems like there are a lot of bodies on the Cape.”
Still, the AAA report noted that high gasoline prices and uncertainty around the recovery continue to limit travel. Even those who can afford to take vacations may have to cut corners, business owners said.
Heather Macheras, owner of a gift shop in Hyannis, said people were visiting from Connecticut and New York but that sales hadn’t kept pace.
“We’ve had to work harder to sell more small things,” she said. “I think people are being really cautious at this point.”
Down Main Street, a few others shared her disappointment.
“It isn’t nearly as good as it was last year,” said Elizabeth Beatty, owner of Sunnyside Restaurant on Main Street.
By and large, however, businesses were upbeat. At the Brewster Store, a general store that dates to 1866, sales were brisk.
“They’re on vacation, they want to have fun, and they’re buying a lot of stuff,” said one employee, who asked that her name not appear in print.
Bob and Beth Keeley of Syracuse were visiting Cape Cod for the first time, a new addition to their regular getaways.
“We feel more comfortable about spending the money and adding it on to other vacations,” Bob Keeley said.
Mary Cardinal, who lives in Hyannis, linked the uptick in tourism to the economy, which finally seems to be heading in the right direction. On a weekend trip to Nantucket, everyone she saw was carrying shopping bags.
“It shows me there’s no problem with people’s money and their purses,” she said.
As the long weekend wound to a close, many people began packing up to head home. Others lingered, strolling through the streets just a little longer.
Cape Cod vacations, many said, are a tradition that keeps people coming back year after year, in good times and bad. The Ocean Club in South Yarmouth was full for the weekend, just like last year and the year before that.
“They always spend a week on the Cape,” said Nicole Gerniglia, visiting her family from Saugus.
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