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December 06. 2012 12:53AM

State expects boost in winter tourism

CONCORD - State officials said on Wednesday they are expecting a 5 percent increase in visitors this winter and spending to be up by 9 percent.

That would mean nearly 7 million will come to enjoy the snow, visit family and friends, and take advantage of tax-free shopping.

Lower gas prices and a favorable exchange rate for Canadian visitors are among the factors contributing to the positive outlook.

Snow, of course, is a major ingredient for tourism, with more than 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails and several dozen ski resorts dotting the state. And though there has been little natural snow fall so far, early indicators are positive, said Karl Stone, spokesman for Ski NH. He cited strong season pass sales among the positive signs for the upcoming season.

"Resorts have experienced several periods of sustained weather for snowmaking," he said. About a dozen ski areas should be open by the weekend.

Lori Harnois, director of the Division of Travel and Tourism Development, said the state is on track for a busy season.

"We are expecting about 6.7 million people to come here between now and the end of February, and that would be about 5 percent higher than last year," Harnois said. "More than spending time, these visitors will spend about $860 million, which is up by 9 percent over last year."

The Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University compiled the numbers, Harnois said, which are based on factors such as spending patterns, gas prices, weather and the previous year's activity.

Last winter was among the worst winters in terms of snowfall in the past decade but revenue was not far off from the previous winter.

"While most of our winter visitors will be from other New England states, we expect more travelers from New York state and Eastern Canada this year," said Harnois.

Weeklong family vacations should be well above the level for the Christmas and February vacation weeks of last winter, she said.

Overnight trips to the state's ski areas will likely increase by at least 5 percent over last year, the institute report showed, while day trips to the ski areas should increase by an estimated 3 percent, partly in response to lower gas prices.

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Paula Tracy may be reached at ptracy@unionleader.com.

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