A tall ship in Newburyport and a water shuttle in Gloucester. The artful eye of Ansel Adams on display in Salem and a rare glimpse of Charles Dickens’s artifacts in Lowell. Add hot, humid days and big cool waves at the region’s long stretch of beaches.
As the summer tourism season heads to a finale on Labor Day weekend, area attractions, museums, and historic sites report strong attendance and a steady stream of day-trippers and international visitors checking into hotels and motels.
“I’m hearing a lot of different accents,” said David Butler, owner of the Salem Trolley, which carries visitors about the Witch City. “The Canadian dollar is almost on a par with ours. That helps, too. I’ve been encouraged. I think a lot of people are.”
A water shuttle on Gloucester Harbor is packed with people hopping off at the city’s waterfront attractions, such as Rocky Neck Art Colony.
“People seem to like visiting without having to drive around in their car,” said Steve Douglass, owner of Cape Ann Harbor Tours, which has operated for 30 years on Harbor Loop. “Everyone around here, the whale watch boats, the schooner sails, they all seem to be doing well.”
The scene was set in the first six months of the year, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Visits to Essex County were up 8 percent, and Middlesex County’s visitors increased 9 percent, compared with the same period in 2011.
“People are staying closer to home and looking for good value and interesting and authentic experiences that don’t break the bank,” Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, said in a prepared statement.
Hotel and motel room tax collections, key indicators of the lodging industry, are also on the upswing. In Essex County, the total climbed to $6.2 million last year, up from $4.4 million in 2010, according to data from the state Department of Revenue. In Middlesex County, tax collections soared to $27.5 million last year, compared with $21.1 million in 2010.
The state figures are reflected in the sunny views of area tourism officials.
“Our numbers here are good,” said Deborah Belanger, director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our visitor numbers have been going up. We’re excited by that.The Lowell Folk Festival, one of the biggest events of summer in the Merrimack Valley, drew an estimated 110,000 to 115,000 people last month, according to the Lowell National Historical Park. “Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation,” a special exhibit at the park to celebrate Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday, drew 2,880 visitors from April to June, according to the most recent data from the park service. The exhibit closes Oct. 20.
In Salem, “Ansel Adams: At The Water’s Edge,” an exhibit running through Oct. 8, has boosted attendance at the Peabody Essex Museum by 40 percent for July and August, said Jay Finney, chief marketing officer.
“Attendance this summer has been outstanding, principally due to the Ansel Adams exhibition,” Finney wrote in an e-mail. “Last summer we had exhibitions [‘Man Ray/Lee Miller’ and ‘Painting the American Vision’] that, while popular, were not as broadly appealing and accessible as the photography of Ansel Adams.”
Smaller museums in the region have fared well this summer, too.
The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester has drawn about 1,000 more visitors this year than last. Shop sales are up 30 percent over last year, as well.
“This increase is in spite of great weather, which usually draws crowds to the beaches, but not always to an indoor venue,” Rhonda Faloon, the museum director, wrote in an e-mail.
Faloon attributes the increase to two special exhibits: “Marsden Hartley: Soliloquy in Dogtown,” a selection of paintings and drawings of the city’s Dogtown area, and “water, water,” by mother-daughter artists Sara Hollis Perry and Rachel Perry Welty. “We know that folks are coming to these shows,” Faloon added.
In Newburyport, the Custom House Maritime Museum rode a wave of the HMS Bounty’s visit last month. The replica of the historic 18th century tall ship docked in Newburyport Harbor the weekend of July 13, during which museum admission was free.
“It was a significant maritime attraction that brought people to the city,” said Michael Mroz, the museum director. “We thought, ‘Why not complement, not compete with, the Bounty’s visit?”
The strategy appeared to work. On Aug. 10, attendance at the small museum on the Merrimack River surpassed 9,000 visitors, its total for 2011. “We still have a third of the year to go,” Mroz said. “We hope to keep the momentum going. We have a slew of events planned for fall.”
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