Business organization leaders indicate slight downturns in summer traffic over this summer season compared to last year, with some noting a downturn in spending. Leaders and business owners identified many of the same factors, including competitive European travel prices, and poor weather in the early part of the season.
Josh Goldstein, owner of the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven and its 48 rooms, says he saw a drop in business.
“We certainly saw a noticeable decrease in occupancy…The [poor] weather had something to do with it,” said Goldstein, pointing out rainy weather. And he noted that the rest of the world has opened up to travel since the pandemic.
“[With] the fact that international travel is now wide open—sort of a post-COVID recovery—people are finding a week here or a week in the south of France. A couple years beforehand it was just here.”
At the end of a slower summer, Goldstein said he had some help with the recent Beach Road Weekend Music Festival. But overall, compared to last year, his numbers were down.
Dave Gaffey, General Manager at Nancy’s Restaurant in Oak Bluffs, reports a very strong July and August, but a slow start to summer.
“June was definitely below average. I think most of that was due to the weather,” Gaffey said.
And while statistics like room occupancy and hotel reservations have not been officially compiled, Martha’s Vineyard business leaders are seeing a similar trend.
Carolina Cooney, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, notes mixed takeaways for the Island overall this summer, with fewer people but similar profits to recent years.
“[I]t’s safe to say that, as far as the number of visitors, this year is down from the COVID boom years we’ve been having,” she said. “However, initial reports coming in from businesses are that sales were strong, and even steady compared to the prior years.”
Cooney also points to Europe to explain the trend. “The world has opened back up and travelers have more options and are eager to explore the world,” she said. “Martha’s Vineyard is a world-class destination and our pricing has come to reflect that.”
Cooney’s determinations on summer 2023 come from communications with various businesses; a clearer picture is anticipated later this month.
“We will examine sales tax receipts, lodging receipts, ferry traffic, traffic counters around the Island, and other various reporting mechanisms,” she said.
Billie Jean Sullivan, Executive Director of the Oak Bluffs Association (OBA), said overall there was a downturn in business in Oak Bluffs. She noted that her town’s information booth talked to 9,000 people in July, but that she was also aware of a spending dip.
“There’s traffic, but spending is down,” Sullivan said. She also stated that June was particularly slow, and that July and August were also down from past years. Sullivan pointed to a mix of factors, including Europe reopening post-COVID.
“European travel opened up, people opted to go to other places that weren’t as crowded, maybe just to have a new experience,” Sullivan said. She also implicated larger economic factors. “I think spending is down because interest rates are up, and the cards don’t wanna be used as much.”
Sullivan also pointed to the high cost of summer housing for visitors: “As far as Airbnb prices, and what people are paying to stay here, it’s just at a high…spending has to be reeled in somewhere, so they’re spending less out.”
Sullivan also highlighted SSA cancellations as a complicating factor for visitors, along with high demand for reservations.
In terms of changes to benefit Oak Bluffs, Sullivan lamented additional pressure on consumers after the town’s mooring fee was raised to $50, which was done in order to compete with other Island towns. “We had some Emails from not-too-happy people who brought their boats in from Falmouth,” Sullivan said. “They said they can’t come and spend money on restaurants and T-shirts, and drinking.” The mooring fees are not present in September.
Sullivan plans to talk to the Oak Bluffs harbor advisory committee and town regarding the issue.
This month or next, OBA will also attend a meeting at Oak Bluffs town hall to review sales tax records, in order to establish a more comprehensive picture of summer performance.
Cooney would also like to see certain changes, with some focus on Oak Bluffs as well. “Easier and streamlined permitting (perhaps fast-tracking repeat events), the creation of an Oak Bluffs Cultural District, enhanced wayfinding, and action on long-vacant buildings would make a huge impact…and would encourage new business creation.”