Rutland Herald - Online
September 6, 2009

The foliage season is short — lasting only a month or so — but it packs a lot of economic wallop.

Visitors to the state spend $374.6 million during the fall, with the bulk of the 3.7 million visitors coming during the last week in September and the first two weeks in October, according to the state Department of Tourism and Marketing.

The rainy summer may have kept some tourists away but all that wet weather has set the stage for what tourism officials believe will be a fall marked by brilliant colors.

"Our overall number of inquires during August were actually up 6.7 percent over last year and most of those were inquiring about the fall," said Greg Gerdel, research and operations chief at the Department of Tourism and Marketing.

After New York, the second highest number of inquiries came from Texas, followed by Illinois and Florida.

He said the increased interest from distant states this year goes against the conventional wisdom that people are staying closer to home.

"I'm speculating that airfares are relatively low so it may well be encouraging people to make their once in a lifetime trip to fall foliage," Gerdel said.

He said 12 percent of fall visitors fly here, making fall the highest percentage of air travelers to the state.

He said most visitors are within a few hours drive with 35 percent coming from New England and 30 percent from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Vicky Tebbetts of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is seeing a similar level of interest as Gerdel with requests for the chamber's Vacation Guide is up 15 percent in August from last year.

While the economy remains in the doldrums, Tebbetts said a bright spot is gasoline prices, which have come down from their highs of a year ago.

The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe is anticipating a good fall, though given the economy the leaf peeping season will likely fall short of last year.

Sam von Trapp said because the trend is to make last-minute reservations it's hard to get a handle on how business before the season starts.

"The entire industry statewide and nationwide is definitely struggling compared to last year," said von Trapp, director of operations at the 96-room family-run resort. "If we end up being just slightly behind last year, I think we'll have to be very happy with that."

Bookings for the fall are up at Killington Resort.

"We are running significantly ahead of last year in terms of foliage reservations," Killington spokesman Tom Horrocks said.

Killington's reservation system has access to 10,000 of the 18,000 beds throughout Rutland County.

To boost business, a number of lodging establishment are promoting specials.

Horrocks said helping to boost reservations is a $36 per night rate, per person, which includes a scenic ride on the Killington gondola.

The Trapp Family Lodge is offering value-added packages that include bike rentals or breakfast.

Tour buses are a staple of the Vermont landscape, especially in the fall, with motor coach tours accounting for 8 to 10 percent of visitors, said Ellen Dube, managing director of the 150-member Vermont Tourism Network.

Dube said while the motor coach business is down this year there is reason for some optimism. She said there are hundreds of tour operators near Vermont and many "have decided to book locally and do tours closer to home."

She added that early bookings for 2010 are very strong.

Although bus tours are down for the fall at the Vermont Marble Exhibit and Museum in Proctor, spokeswoman Cathy Miglorie said she expects a strong fall with more individual and family visits.

Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury is one of the state's more popular attractions.

"We're expecting a strong fall and foliage season due to the many reservations we're holding for tour companies,' said Ben & Jerry's spokesman Sean Greenwood.

Greenwood added that 58,000 people toured the ice cream plant last month.

At the Holiday Inn in Rutland, there remain some vacancies during the three-week peak season but hotel co-owner Bud McLaughlin said overall foliage season "is looking good" with reservations on a par or ahead of last year. "I'm fairly optimistic right now that that's going to turn out well," he said.

In terms of tourism spending, winter has the biggest impact with the 3.9 million winter visitors spending $562.9 million; the 5.5 million summer tourists spend $539.2 million; spring pulls in only 1.3 million visitors who spend $138.3 million.

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