Officials expect 2017 NH foliage season to set recordsBy JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent October 01. 2017 9:41PM
DIXVILLE — As the fall foliage colors gradually arrive, the North Country is already seeing leaf peepers for the 2017 foliage season that state tourism officials predict will bring both a record number of visitors and spending.
Tourism is New Hampshire’s second largest revenue generator and of all the seasons, fall attracts the second largest number of visitors.
On Thursday, the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development and Gov. Chris Sununu announced that 9.75 million visitors will spend $1.5 billion this fall season, which represent, respectively, increases of 4 percent and 5 percent over 2016.
“From the Granite State’s unrivaled beauty to our treasured history and tax-free shopping, New Hampshire has limitless ways to enjoy the fall foliage,” said Sununu. “The Granite State is proud to welcome visitors from around the globe, and we work hard to ensure that every visit is better than the last.”
Recognizing that figuring out “the perfect time to catch peak foliage in New Hampshire can be a bit of a leap of faith,” the Travel and Tourism Department this year refreshed its “foliage tracker.”
The online tool, www.visitnh.gov/foliage-tracker, on Friday showed that much of the state, including the White Mountains and the Great North Woods, was in the “moderate” color range.
“We’re having an earlier peak than we did last year,” said Katelyn White, who is marketing manager of the Lancaster-based New Hampshire Grand, an initiative of the Northern Community Investment Corporation that promotes more than 40 businesses located from Littleton to Pittsburg.
“Last year, we had a very extended peak,” White said, “but this year because of the rain and other factors, we’ll probably see an earlier one. There are some parts (of the North Country) that have very vivid reds, oranges and yellows and some other parts that are not there yet.”
But the foliage is definitely changing, she said, and the aficionados have been arriving steadily since earlier this month.
“Foliage is a huge part of the economy up here,” said White. “People are coming from all over the world.”
Down in Woodstock, Charyl Reardon, who is the marketing/operations manager for the White Mountains Attractions Association, echoed White.
“Many local businesses report that foliage season is their busiest time of year and the region as a whole can see several million visitors in a four- six-week time period,” Reardon said via email.
Despite the fact that foliage season varies year to year in intensity and color, that fact “seems to have little impact on the number of visitors we have to the region, since so many of our visitors are from outside of New England, and plan far ahead for their trip,” said Reardon.
She downplayed the dull look of the leaves in some places, saying they will get brighter as they come into peak foliage.
“It’s still a little early in the season and the revisit of summer weather has slowed things down considerably. Once the cooler evenings return, the colors throughout the mountainsides should begin to pop. As past trends indicate, peak foliage is typically the first two weeks of October.”
Reardon expects that the 2017 foliage season will be as successful as last year’s.
“In this business, we find that Mother Nature always comes through with great color, regardless of the summer weather we have had,” she said.
Marti Mayne, of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that during informal conversations with members, they have told her that September has been a good month, with both sales and revenues up over the same period in 2016.
Already popular, fall tourism in the White Mountains this year got a boost from Yankee Magazine, which, Mayne said, predicted that “fall colors would be beautiful this year,” adding that the glowing forecast “got travelers excited to come for leaf-peeping getaways.”
Leaf peepers come from all over New Hampshire, New England and the U.S., said Mayne, and also from the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia.
Mayne thinks that peak foliage will be early this year, noting that Columbus Day, which is Oct. 9, is “the traditional peak for foliage in the Valley.”
There is always room for more leaf peepers, said Mayne, but those who are planning to stay for a while should make sure that they’ve got their accommodations in order, because “there will be weekends during fall foliage season when many of the lodging properties will be sold out.” The upside, however, is that more lodging and camping will be available during the week than on prime weekends.
Mark Okrant, who is a professor emeritus of tourism management and policy at Plymouth State University, confirmed that “Fall, is indeed, the second-leading generator of visitors to the state,” accounting for about a quarter of all annual visits. Forty percent of visitors come during the summer, he noted, while spring is the third most popular season and winter is last.”
The creator of the first academic tourism program in New Hampshire, Okrant said that when he projects a forthcoming tourist season, “I look at a number of economic and tourism-industry variables, and, frankly, they’re looking good right now.”