Cape Cod Tourism

FILE - In this July 23, 2019 file photo, Yarmouth Fire crews look through the parts of the roof that blew off the Cape Sands Inn during a morning tornado that touched down on the structure in West Yarmouth, Mass. Local chamber of commerce data suggests Cape Cod lodging and beach visit numbers are down after uncommon tornados hit just one year after a pair of shark attacks. (Steve Heaslip/The Cape Cod Times via AP, File)

Between great white sharks, freak tornadoes and new taxes on vacation rentals, Cape Cod businesses have had a challenging summer.

Lodging and beach visit numbers are down on the famous vacation destination, one year after the region dealt with two shark attacks, including the state’s first fatal attack in more than 80 years.  Beaches have been closed to swimming for shark sightings so frequently that some news outlets have taken to keeping a running tally (At least 90 times, by one count).

Officials, who took modest steps to prepare for increased shark activity ahead of this season, are sighing in relief that there hasn’t yet been a repeat of last year’s attacks. But this summer also threw a curveball in the form of three rare tornadoes that touched down July 23.

While relatively weak and short-lived, the EF1 twisters ripped the roof off a hotel and knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers for almost three days. State officials estimate they caused $3.7 million in damage.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “It rained every weekend in June. Then we had tornadoes in July. But August has been much better. We’re looking forward to September. It’s almost like a second summer.”

Northcross said she expects August numbers to show more of a return to form for the region, which pumps more than $1 billion of tourism dollars into the state economy. But figures from the early summer months haven’t been encouraging.

Attendance at the federally managed Cape Cod National Seashore beaches this June were down 10% compared with last June, according to chamber statistics.

Hotel occupancy rates were down more than 3% in June and July, compared with the same months last year. And vacation property rentals, which vastly outnumber traditional hotel and motel beds on the Cape, are also down about 2% from prior years, said Carla Hemmings, a rental manager at Cape Cod Oceanview Realty.

She and other property managers concede shark concerns have turned away some, but they argue the hotel and lodging taxes to which the rentals were subjected for the first time starting July 1 have taken a bigger bite.

Northcross points out that traffic across the bridges leading to the Cape averaged about 3,500 more vehicles a day in July than they did last July, suggesting more day-trippers were venturing out rather than longer-term vacationers. And while she didn’t yet have firm figures, she said, restaurants and retail shops reported brisk business in August.

Colette Cummings, owner of Ducks in the Window, says tourist activity along Chatham’s charming Main Street has been noticeably lighter this summer, but that didn’t seem to hurt her quirky duck-themed shop.

“There definitely weren’t multiple days of craziness and energy like years before,” she said. “At the same time, we had very, very few moments where did not have customers in the store. So I can’t say it was a bad summer. Given the shark issue, taxes and tornadoes, it could have been a lot worse.”

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