If Labor Day weekend was any indicator, the late summer on Cape Cod will have some of the best weather of the year. Regional tourism officials are hoping that an extended visitor season will buoy the local economy in advance of what’s expected to be a long, hard financial winter.
Working with the Cape Cod Reopening Task force, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce has launched a “Second Summer” campaign to keep tourism dollars flowing to the region as long as possible this year. Digital billboards on the Mass Pike and around Hartford, Conn., will promote the warm weather, beaches, seafood and outdoor activities that are still available here, “including hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, kayaking,” Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wendy Northcross said. “All of the things we’ve been successfully doing all summer remain very popular into the fall.”
The campaign will also include online marketing and pay-per-click ads on Facebook and Instagram in target markets within driving distance of the Cape. Money for the campaign came from a state tourism grant, “funds that we held back from using this spring,” Northcross said.
Through Aug. 15, hotel performance has been strong, showing “really positive occupancy rates exceeding expectations,” she said. But those numbers are still well below last summer’s figures, with weekday occupancy down 15 percent and weekend occupancy down 12 percent from 2019. Hotels are just one industry feeling the sting of the pandemic.
“Certainly dining has been constrained,” she said. And in the shops, “the struggle has really been for smaller, localized retailers,” though large retail businesses have also suffered, Northcross said. As COVID-19 numbers decline, the region is showing a “K-shaped” economic recovery, she said. While some businesses are suffering, others, like real estate sales and rentals and car and boat sales, have had a strong few months.
In June, the Cape Cod Commission and the Cape Cod Chamber conducted a survey of businesses in Barnstable County to gauge their plans and their financial health at the start of the summer season. A second survey is nearly complete, and Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Kristy Senatori said the preliminary results showed that 55 percent of businesses that responded are open in some limited capacity.
“About 7 or 8 percent of the responders are completely closed,” she said. Of them, about 30 percent are unsure if they will ever reopen, and 4.5 percent are closed permanently. Of all the 370 business owners who answered the survey, 35 percent said they’re just getting by.
“They can only operate for about six months or less with their current cash loads and reserves,” Senatori said. The business owners who responded to the survey said they’re struggling with fewer customers, the challenge of enforcing social distancing rules and mask requirements, and the increased costs of cleaning and sanitizing their properties.
“About 52 percent of the respondents said their revenues are down about 50 percent,” she said.
There’s another unknown factor in this year’s summer season: how many summer residents went home on Labor Day.
State Senator Julian Cyr, D–Truro, said he expects the Cape will see a sustained population increase through the winter with second homeowners opting to stay here, and some members of the seasonal workforce remaining as well. A number of hospitality workers “who traditionally probably would return to New York or a water destination for the winter months,” are planning to stay here so they can keep working and remain in a place with lower COVID-19 numbers, he said.
Northcross said she’s seen some evidence of this. Certain companies that serve short-term rental properties, like trash haulers and cleaning services, have reported that they’ve been asked to extend their operations into January, she said.
“It’s going to be really interesting to watch all of this,” Cyr said. The months ahead are likely to bring both “opportunities and big challenges.”
The Cape Cod Chamber has always promoted the shoulder seasons, but this year’s late summer and fall will be different. Traditionally, the Cape sees a number of weddings, bus tours, business conferences and special events at this time of year, and those events have all but halted because of rules designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“All of that is a challenge for properties that have built a business plan around extending the season that way,” she said.
For now, tourism officials are busy promoting the region’s natural attractions, good food, and the current good weather to attract more visitors who are coming from within driving distance.
“We’re hoping businesses can fill the coffers a little bit more, because winter is coming,” Northcross said.