Island tourism: A summer blockbuster

Ferries, films and festivals kept people coming to the Island.

Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday this year, which could be why there was a slight decrease in ferry passenger traffic this year. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated September 27, 4 pm

If it were possible to describe the summer season on Martha’s Vineyard in three words, they would be: beautiful, exciting, hectic. This summer was a smash hit for many Island businesses and organizations that rely on the seasonal tourist population to stay afloat.

The Steamship Authority, according to an email to The Times from communications director Sean Driscoll, had an overwhelmingly successful season — ferrying fairgoers, beach bums, and first-time visitors to and from the Island. “This was a very strong season for us overall,” Driscoll said. It was the third best summer for Martha’s Vineyard passenger traffic since 1993, Driscoll wrote.

Overall passenger traffic was down from 1,049,493 passengers traveling to and from Martha’s Vineyard in the SSA’s record year of 2017 to 1,034,008 in 2018 — still one of the top three years on record for the ferry service.

One factor in the slight decrease could be the Fourth of July being on a Wednesday, Driscoll said. “We had a strong year. When you have a record-breaking year, you’re going to come down off of it,” he said.

After a spring of difficulties, the SSA had a much better summer, with only minimal mechanical problems. There were just 10 for the whole summer.

A fifth ferry was added to the schedule, which helped drive up vehicle and truck traffic significantly. In 2018, there were nearly 5,000 more automobile trips between Woods Hole and the Island than the previous year, and nearly 7,000 more than 2016.

The SSA specifically added the additional ferry to move some larger trucks from the 5:30 am ferry in Woods Hole to address noise complaints, Driscoll said. It ended up allowing the SSA to move more trucks back and forth. There were 1,062 more truck trips for the three-month summer period over the previous year.

“Truck traffic is seen as a harbinger of the economy,” Driscoll said. The number of construction trucks and trucks bringing supplies to restaurants is “a reflection on the overall economy of the Island,” he said.

Island Cove Adventures mini golf in Tisbury had a great season, according to owner Mary Gosselin. The popular summer spot made a few changes to address the influx of mini-golfers, including offering an affordable package plan to golf, have a meal and dessert, and an option to climb the rock wall. “This gives our customers a destination to stay for a couple of hours and relax in a water garden setting, complete with water misters for hot days. We all enjoyed it,” Gosselin said.

The Island movie theaters also had a blockbuster summer, according to executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society Richard Paradise. “We had a phenomenal summer with many different successes,” Paradise said. He said the Environmental Film Festival from May 24 to May 27 kicked off the summer, and drew crowds of visitors to the Island. Every year, Paradise said, the Film Society grows and progresses. The Strand and Capawock both surpassed last summer’s box office revenue by a significant amount, according to Paradise. This summer was the “summer of documentaries,” Paradise said. Along with debuts like “RBG” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the film festival’s success was underscored by many special guests, such as Spike Lee and Morgan Neville.

“BlacKkKlansman” was the No. 1 movie showing this summer, with “Crazy Rich Asians” hovering in second place, according to Paradise.

Another success Paradise mentioned is the 13th annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, which began on Sept. 4 and ended on the 9th. “It is a great festival with one-of-a-kind showings,” Paradise said.

Island restaurants also saw the regular craziness of July and August. According to J.B. Blau, owner of Copper Wok, the Loft, Sharky’s Cantina, and M.V. Chowder Co., it was a strong summer for hungry customers. “The heat really helped,” Blau said. “People wanted to get out of the sun and into some air conditioning.”

Blau said although some weeks were not as consistent, the time surrounding July 4 was as busy as ever. “That week is always nuts,” Blau said about the week surrounding Independence Day. He explained how Island housing directly correlates with how busy the summer is and how many seasonal staff are hired. He suggested that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young workers, such as college students and J-1 students, to find housing during the height of the season. “When you are forced to stretch your staff, sometimes the product suffers as a result,” Blau said. “Every business experiences this.”

Blau said the Chowder Co. and the Loft are “the biggest monsters” during the summer and year-round. “Those two are definitely our most intense operations,” he said.

Updated to clarify Richard Paridise’s official title