With more foreign travelers visiting Boston than ever, 2012 has turned into a record year for the Massachusetts travel industry.
Logan International Airport is expected to host more than 29 million passengers this year, its second consecutive passenger record. Meanwhile, hotels in Boston and Cambridge reported having more rooms booked than ever, pushing occupancy to 80 percent.
The strong performance is due, in part, to a surge in travelers from Asia, many of them on new nonstop flights from Tokyo via Japan Airlines, which began daily direct service to Massachusetts in June.
"That's been successful beyond our wildest dreams," said Pat Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Some 1.46 million foreign travelers will have visited Boston this year; though a fraction of the number of domestic tourists in 2012, these overseas visitors have an outsized effect on the local economy.
"They tend to stay longer, and spend more than domestic visitors," Moscaritolo said.
His agency estimates that Boston and Cambridge hotels will have sold more than 6.3 million room nights in 2012 at an average price of $214, with travelers from Asia, in particular, boosting those numbers.
The overall numbers for Boston tourism are even more surprising given how 2012 started: amid worries the deep economic problems in Europe would hurt tourism here, because Boston gets so many visitors from the Continent. But by the close of business in 2012, tourism officials predict, the number of visitors, both foreign and domestic, will have increased by 3 percent.
What's more, the travel business gathered steam throughout 2012, as tourists and business travelers shook off the lingering effects of the economic downturn. Overall, visitors to the area added $12 billion to the local economy in 2012, $1.4 billion of which came from international travelers, according to the convention bureau.
"You are seeing the effects of the economy starting to improve," said Deborah McElroy, executive vice president of Airports Council International-North America.
For example, domestic air traffic through September increased 13 percent, compared with the same period in 2011, she said.
Logan, meanwhile, is reaping the benefits of expansion plans that were put in place over the past year or so: JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines opened new domestic routes, while the daily direct flight from Tokyo, which includes travelers from China, Singapore, and other Asian countries, is often 90 percent full, said Todd Smith, director of aviation operations for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan.
On Wednesday, Massport held a small event at which it recognized Gary Lewis, a geologist from Maine, as the 29th million traveler to pass through Logan this year. Lewis was flying with his family on United Airlines to Los Angeles and then on to Australia for a vacation. He was selected based on passenger totals from November and projections for the rest of the year using ticket sales at each airline.
But as passenger numbers at Logan climb, other New England airports are losing travelers. T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island recorded 3.3 million travelers through November, down 6.4 percent from the pervious year. About 2.2 million passengers have traveled through Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire as of November, down 9.4 percent from the previous year.
Manchester attributed its decline to the decision by Southwest Airlines to stop service to Philadelphia, greater competition from Logan, and larger economic pressures in the airline industry that are taking a toll on smaller regional airports.
"On a national level, we are dealing with the effects of an industry constrained by mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and high fuel prices," said Thomas Malafronte, assistant airport director for Manchester.
"Increased competition in Boston has also lead to lower fares for the entire region," Malafronte said. "Good news for the consumer but not so good news for the airlines."
Michael B. Farrell
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