Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
A large crowd enjoys the sun on the deck at Sugarbush Resort in Warren this past weekend. State tourism officials report that visits to Vermont are on the rise.
The tourism industry generated an estimated $1.7 billion in Vermont as nearly 14 million people visited the state in 2011, according to the biennial report released Wednesday by the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.
Both the number of visitors and dollars spent in 2011 increased over 2009, when 13.7 million visitors spent $1.42 billion.
The report, “A Benchmark Study of the Economic Impact of Visitor Expenditures on the Vermont Economy — 2011,” was released at the 30th annual Vermont Travel Industry Conference at the Stoweflake Resort in Stowe.
Highlights of the 2011 report include:
— Record growth in visitor spending generated $274.5 million in tax and fee revenue, a 37.5 percent increase over 2009.
— Visitor spending supported an estimated 37,910 jobs for Vermonters, accounting for approximately 11.5 percent of all jobs, and a 13.1 percent increase in employment in the hospitality and recreation sector since 2009.
— Visitor spending supported 36 percent of the jobs at restaurants and drinking establishments, double the national average.
The state’s retail sector relies on visitor spending for 6.8 percent of its jobs compared with a national average of 2.9 percent.
Winter tourism continues to generate the most visitor spending: $577.4 million in 2011 with 3.87 million visitors; summer, $489.2 million and 4.14 million visitors; fall, $459.8 million and 3.57 million visitors; spring, $192.6 million and 2.36 million visitors.
Megan Smith, commissioner of tourism and marketing, said the state experienced some of the most significant growth in Jay and Stowe, where new hotels were built.
And despite the Great Recession that took hold in late 2008, she said Vermont’s tourism sector weathered the downturn with increases in spending and the number of visitors.
Smith said that upward trend continued in 2010, 2011 and now into 2012.
She said preliminary reports of tax receipts for 2012 show meals, rooms and alcohol sales are up 4.73 percent over the prior year.
But Smith also said some areas of the state are doing better than others.
“I think the southern part of the state since Irene … we’re still struggling from Route 4 south,” she said. “I think there’s still some residual Irene issues when you look around with stuff that hasn’t been fixed yet and then just businesses, the lost rooms and lost bed base in some of these communities.”
Smith said the state will use part of a federal grant to boost tourism in the Mount Snow area, which was hit hard by Irene.
Her department will also be working on a marketing campaign this summer in the Manchester-Bennington area that revolves around the arts.
The Department of Tourism and Marketing has an annual marketing budget of $2.25 million. That amount is doubled with the support of private-sector contributions.
The number of winter visitors increased slightly in 2011 over 2009, while summer and fall visitor numbers declined; spring visitors doubled in 2011 over 2009.
Smith attributed the jump in spring visitors to interest in maple syrup.
“We promote the maple weekend, and we’ve just been stronger and stronger on that message because we’re getting such a response to those campaigns when we get out and talk about maple,” she said.
This spring, Smith said, the state partnered with Amtrak, Cabot Creamery and Long Trail Brewing to promote the maple industry.
The state’s ski industry, which makes up the heart of winter tourism, is having a strong finish to the 2012-13 season.
Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said a strong March ensures that this season will surpass last year’s disappointing season, when the state’s 18 ski areas logged 3.9 million skier visits.
“It’s certainly the strongest March that the ski season has seen in years,” said Riehle, who attended the annual travel conference Wednesday.
He said that depending on the final numbers, including April, the industry could break its 10-year average of 4.1 million skier visits.
Riehle said March continues what has been an “incredibly strong” season. He said rooms and meals tax revenues for December and January were up 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively, over those same months last year.
Vermont attracted 73 percent of its 13.95 million visitors in 2011 from out of state. U.S. visitors totaled 7.6 million; Canadian, 2.5 million; and other nations, 78,000 visitors.
Vermonters made up a significant piece of the in-state tourism market with 3.8 million visitors.
Visitor spending generated tax and fee revenues in 2011 of $274.5 million, up from $199.6 million in 2009.
The tourism industry fact sheet and the complete study are available at www.VermontPartners.com.
The report was prepared by Chmura Economics and Analytics of Richmond, Va.
bruce.edwards @rutlandherald.comMORE IN Vermont News
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