The Story of Summer on Cape Cod

What better way to kick off the summer than with a look at one of its main attractions- Cape Cod. With the official arrival of beach weather and the inevitable slowdown in the meeting & event industry, we thought it would be fun to profile a place famous for its history, food, shopping, coastline, and of course, summer parties. For many people, a visit brings back fond memories of family vacations and nostalgia for “old Cape Cod”, but it is also a popular destination for conferences, retreats and annual meetings, with a certain beachy theme woven into the mix. In the past, the official season began with Memorial Day and ended with Labor Day, but according to Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross, Columbus Day is the new Labor Day and September is the second busiest month of the summer. Whether you’re going for business or pleasure, a visit to the Cape offers a unique perspective on a seasonal market and how it adapts to meet the demand of its diverse tourism base.

While tourists continue to flock to the Cape on weekends, mid-week occupancy of hotel rooms is down, which follows a nationwide trend of tourists taking long weekends but no longer taking the week-long vacations which were common in previous decades. According to Norcross, the average stay in a hotel room is under three days. This implies that as many tourists as before are traveling, but fewer have the luxury of the longer drawn out vacation many Americans had in the past. Travelers are also booking much more last-minute than in recent years, a sign of a changing tourism market and a shift in the supplier/planner dynamic in the meetings industry. Janet Lincoln, Regional Sales Manager for Scout Hotels, including the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, notes: “People are booking much more short-term for both meetings and leisure travel and also- rather ironically!- planners are also booking meetings into future years, which is a great indicator of economic stability.”    

The local economy is largely dependent on a booming tourism market, which accounts for 44 percent of gross revenue each year, primarily from the service sector and retail trade. According to Patti Lloyd, Vice President of Sales for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, “The National Seashore is our benchmark for business with over 4 million visitors consistently visiting yearly for the last 5 years. We see many international visitors that hail from the UK, Germany, France, Canada and elsewhere. Basically Cape Cod is on everyone’s bucket list.”
With so many visitors traveling to the Cape each year and with almost half of the region’s economy dependent upon them, it’s easy to understand why keeping them coming is critical to the long term viability of the region.  And there are plenty of reasons for both leisure guests and business travelers to come back year after year. “Cape Cod is a dynamic and beautiful peninsula that boasts 559.5 miles of coastline and is made up of 15 distinct towns and is the ultimate outdoor place to see and explore. It is a high value year-round destination with 115 beaches, 53 harbors, 42 golf courses (public and private), 1,500 restaurants and museums and plenty of shopping”, Lloyd affirms.

Watch out for the traffic, though! The number of vehicles traveling to the Cape during the summer has increased steadily by 3-4 percent each year, so getting around is becoming one of the most challenging issues facing visitors. The primary method of travel and access is via road and there are two primary routes, 6 and 28, running on the northern and southern sides of the peninsula, respectively.  But the Cape can also be accessed by air, train, bus and ferry during the summer months, and many groups traveling to the region for functions are increasingly choosing these options to avoid sitting in the notorious summer gridlock.   

There are also other factors limiting the growth of tourism on the Cape: limited availability of lodging, water dependent on a single aquifer, limited wastewater treatment facilities and potential overdevelopment that could adversely impact the natural beauty that is the primary draw of visitors to the area. One of the ways in which industry professionals are trying to mitigate for these restrictive factors is by attempting to increase tourism during the shoulder seasons prior to Memorial Day and following Labor Day. A key method is by attracting companies looking to hold smaller conferences and who have some flexibility in their dates, allowing them to consider the Fall and Spring when there are surplus rooms and prices are lower than in summer peak season.

According to Lincoln, while the shoulder seasons are great for conferences due to more reliable weather, fewer tourists, less traffic, lower prices and better room availability, those are the same factors that increase competition among suppliers for limited business opportunities. However, if conference attendance in the off season can be increased enough through targeted marketing initiatives and customized incentives, overall availability will be reduced and all businesses should see an upward trend in demand and pricing. After all, a rising tide floats all boats!

Arguably the most up and coming location on the Cape is Provincetown. Maybe the new ferry from Boston has made the quaint little town on the tip of the Cape more accessible or maybe more people are just willing to make the nearly 2-hour drive from the bridge, but either way, business is booming. Room rentals in 2015 were up 7 percent from the previous year and average revenue per room rose from just under $20,000 to almost $21,500. The total amount spent on room rentals in 2015 was $33 million, up 7 percent from $30.86 million in the previous year, even though the total number of rooms for rent in Provincetown has declined 10 percent over the past five years. Provincetown’s restaurants also saw a similar bump with a 5.2 percent increase in receipts and meals tax from 2014 to 2015. Provincetown Tourism Director Anthony Fuccillo says the trend isn’t expected to let up anytime soon and 2016 is expected to be another banner year for this reinvigorated town at the far-east end of Massachusetts.

Cape Cod is also trying to capitalize on a growing nationwide trend: sports tourism. The Cape is already a mecca for baseball fans: The Cape Cod Baseball League is the nation’s premier summer collegiate league with many players going on to the major leagues. Unfortunately, many visitors to the area are still unaware that they can drive down to a local field for a first-rate game (and free admission). By expanding the general public knowledge about the CCBL as well as other sporting events held around the Cape, the hope is that the region could become a stand-alone destination for groups such as the recently held NCAA Women’s Hockey East Tournament, helping to boost its appeal as a year-round destination and stabilizing the seasonal economy for local businesses. Events for younger teams such as the New England Soccer Classic Tournament for elementary school players brought hundreds of families to the Cape to watch and participate in functions at various venues around the area. If this trend continues, it could attract full-time residents and increase demand for meeting spaces, guestrooms, dining options, and other amenities.

Of course, what would a trip to the Cape be without a visit to the beach? Undoubtedly the primary tourist draw, the Cape Cod Region has over 550 miles of beautiful sandy beaches, including the majestic, 40-mile-long National Park Service-managed Cape Cod National Seashore on the outer Cape. There are also a variety of other attractions for groups looking to enhance their summer outings. “Please visit Art’s Dune Tours, The John F. Kennedy Museum, Pilgrim Monument, Heritage Museums and Gardens and our brand new Whydah Pirate Museum. Take a bike ride on the many bike trails (114 miles and more being built) or take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket,” suggests Lloyd.  Enjoy, and don’t forget your sunscreen!