The state of the economy, the price of gas and a strong Canadian dollar are all factoring into the economic health of the 2011 summer season in the region.
Many in the region's tourist industry are reporting that while June was a bit of a bust due to days and days of rain, the season has rebounded. Thanks to a string of good weather, July has been strong and August also looks promising, they said.
"July was excellent, but we're playing catchup because of a bad June," said businessman David Sheafer, who with his wife, Sandy, have run Salisbury Discount House at Salisbury Beach Center for decades.
"We're seeing a lot of families; this is a family destination. We're seeing people from the Merrimack Valley, but this year, we're seeing a lot of people from the Midwest, and upper state New York is very strong."
Sheafer said he's encountered about the same number of Canadian visitors as in previous years, even though their dollar can buy more here than back home.
Tom Saab of Saab Real Estate said the vacation house rental market was very strong throughout July and continues that way through mid-August, with some openings available the last half of August.
Saab said the Canadian market does make up a small portion of those who rent in Salisbury, but he sees most of the Canadian traffic at his Sands Hotel, located in Hampton, N.H. For decades, Canadians have vacationed in Hampton, and this year, Saab said he is seeing a few more than usual.
"At the Sands, we're filling up midweek, and I'm seeing more Canadian license plates," Saab said.
On Plum Island, rentals are also strong, according to Maureen Girouard of Port Properties.
"It's been a good year, and it started with reservations coming in earlier than usual," she said.
At Preston Real Estate in Seabrook, which rents about 300 units at both Hampton and Seabrook beaches, Bob Preston said the summer has been interesting.
"June started off a little soft, but things have picked up in July and it's been strong," Preston said.
Preston and Saab agree the last two weeks in August tend to drop off because many schools open in the last weeks of the month, tending to keep families close to home.
About half of Preston's clients are repeat vacationers who have come to the area for decades, and many who visit Hampton are from Canada.
"I am seeing more Canadian visitors this year," Preston said. "I attribute some of that to the strong Canadian dollar."
But both Preston and Ray Champagne, owner of the Beach Road RV Park in Salisbury, are noticing the impact higher gas prices and the continuation of the sluggish economy are having on visitors.
Champagne said his business is a bit off, which he owes to the cost of filling up large recreation vehicles. He's also not getting as many guests coming from great distances — like California or Seattle — as in the past. But Canadians are arriving in good numbers, he said, and they're making group reservations for more than one RV at a time.
Although gas is as high, if not higher, in Canada, the strong Canadian dollar makes buying things here more attractive, especially since Canada has such a high sales tax.
"When they discover New Hampshire has no sales tax, they buy a lot, including big-ticket items," he said.
Preston said high fuel costs and an iffy economy are making families careful this year.
"Gas is something they might put on their credit cards, but then they'll spend less when they get here," Preston said. "I see a lot of families bringing coolers with them when they come for the day. Like all of us, they're making choices, but they're still coming and bringing the kids. This year, it might be a day trip, and next year, they might come for the weekend, then consider visiting for a week."