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Md. summer tourism washed away in rain

It was a summer of cancellations for the Pocomoke River Cruises.

Too many soggy days kept people away from the scenic boat rides.

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"If it's thundering and lightning, you really don't want to be on the water," said Rai Coiro, who runs the cruises with her husband in Snow Hill. "You really just can't enjoy the river."

So it went this summer, from Maryland's foggy mountain resorts in the west to the rain-soaked beaches in the east. While some restaurants and tourist spots reported solid seasonal bookings, for many it was the summer that wasn't.

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"You were actually able to get a parking space on the Boardwalk in June," said Donna Abbott, Ocean City's tourism office spokeswoman. "I thought I was in the twilight zone or something."

The season started Memorial Day with downpours, then continued right into a cold and wet June. Not good weather for much of anything but sitting indoors.

Top that with delayed family vacations, thanks to extended school years as students made up days missed because of last year's record snowfalls. Already, half the summer was lost.

"This June was horrid," said Mike Wicklein, the owner and president of Slide & Ride outdoor amusements in Ocean City. "When it's cool and rainy I could give it away and nobody would come."

Business picked up as a sunny Fourth of July weekend brought out record numbers of people tired of being stuck indoors. But that lasted only about six weeks, as many students headed back to school during the middle of August.

"It drives us crazy when you see school kids and college kids go back in the middle of the month," said Wicklein. "Our idea of a good time is when everybody goes back after Labor Day."

An early Labor Day

But even Labor Day falls early this year, meaning that the summer season ends early, too.

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The number of weekend visitors to Ocean City in June was about 914,000, well below last year's 1.2 million, according to the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau and Department of Tourism. About 1.23 million people visited in July, compared with 1.20 million during July of last year. August numbers are not yet available.

Weather is the key to whether the seaside town fills its more than 10,000 hotel rooms and more than 25,000 condominiums. At peak season, the town of 7,500 grows to more than 325,000.

Trouble recovering

Some businesses have recovered June losses with strong August sales. Others haven't.

"There's no real rhyme or reason to anything that happened this year," said Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association. "Some people have done fine, and other people don't think they'll ever catch up from how bad June was."

The Park Place Hotel has had a steady stream of visitors since July 4 and was just about booked for the Labor Day weekend by yesterday afternoon. But general manager Kevin Bresnahan said there are still challenges with the hotel restaurant, Conners Beach Cafe.

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"Because we're right on the Boardwalk, cloudy or rainy days or nights would definitely lessen the traffic flow," Bresnahan said. "People would be in town but would go to the outlet mall or the highway restaurants instead of taking a walk on the beach."

Garrett County, home to the mountain resort town of Deep Creek Lake, saw a slight drop in visitors this year, but nothing that tourism officials are concerned about. In June, 3,628 people visited compared with 3,654 last year. In July, 6,030 people visited, vs. 6,069 last year.

"I think it's basically because it continued to rain," said Charlie Ross, president and chief executive officer of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. "We followed an incredibly snow-filled season with a rain-filled spring and summer. This is one of the wettest summers I've seen."

Ross said the area saw a lot of last-minute bookings this year, as visitors watched the weather before deciding to travel.

Tourism officials are expecting a solid Labor Day showing -- especially if the rain holds off.

And they're also holding out for a little business after Labor Day, as September becomes more popular to people looking for weekend trips while the weather is still nice and the rates are lower.

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"Once upon a time, Ocean City packed up the Boardwalk at the end of the Labor Day season and went home," Abbott said. "but that's just not the case anymore."


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