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'Outlook is good' for state's tourism industry


CONCORD - Optimism was the dominant theme as more than 300 representatives of the state's tourism industry crowded into the Grappone Conference Center for two days of workshops and networking at the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism.

Now in its 37th year, the conference, which opened on Monday, gives tourist-related businesses a chance to coordinate their marketing efforts with the state's Division of Travel and Tourism, according to Kelly Jarvis, operations manager for the New Hampshire Travel Council, the private, nonprofit group hosting the event.

She said a 22-percent increase in conference registration this year was a good indication of a positive trend going into the 2013 spring and summer season. "The outlook is good," she said, "based on the interest we've seen in the conference, and a lot of the feedback we're getting from attendees and what they're hearing from visitors."

Among the presenters was Mark J. Okrant, a professor of tourism management and director of the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University, who has coordinated tourism research for the state since 1990. The institute hasn't conducted a formal forecast for the upcoming season, but Okrant was upbeat.

"The economy is doing better, gas prices are going down and consumer confidence is up," he said. "All we need is good weather. That's the key."

Alice Pearce, president of Ski NH, the ski industry trade association, joined Okrant in a workshop titled, "What Do Visitors Want?" She predicted that efforts by the ski resorts in the state to become year-round destinations with outdoor attractions should yield dividends this summer, weather permitting.

"All but two of our alpine areas now have significant summer attractions," she said, "with things like ziplines, canopy tours, tree-top adventures, Seqway tours and disc golf." After one of the best ski seasons in years, resort operators are now looking forward to the warmer weather.

Gov. Maggie Hassan opened the conference by reminding the crowd of several tourist-related initiatives under consideration in Concord, including increased funding for tourism promotion, renewed commitment to the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, and planned improvements to visitor and information centers throughout the state.

She also took advantage of the opportunity to introduce Jeffrey Rose, her new commissioner of resources and economic development, whose jurisdiction includes travel and tourism.

Rose came armed with the statistics that show why tourism is the state's second-largest industry, after manufacturing.

"We have 34 million visitors that come to our state every year," he said. "They spend $4.5 billion while here, contributing to 62,000 jobs. (Tourism) is one of the economic engines that drive our state."

The event continues today, with workshops on marketing with social media and mobile technologies, and attracting overseas travellers.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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