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N.H.’s summer tourism season in full swing

An estimated 880,000 tourists came to New Hampshire for the holiday weekend, and that’s just a fraction of the total 14.9 million visitors predicted to visit the state this summer, up about 2 percent from last year.

“We have such a great state to show off and let people come and explore,” said Amy Bassett, assistant director at the Division of Travel and Tourism.

Tourism is the state’s No. 2 industry behind manufacturing, with the total number of visitors each summer at more than 10 times the state’s population. Tourism also supports about 68,000 jobs and numerous local economies, Bassett said. And travel spending in New Hampshire is set to increase slightly this summer to $1.95 billion. Summer is the busiest tourism season of the year in New Hampshire, with the Lakes Region, Seacoast and mountains being the most popular destinations of the season, Bassett said.

The Division of Travel and Tourism doesn’t track travel spending by New Hampshire residents vacationing in other parts of the state, meaning total tourism dollars are likely even higher. The weather always plays a role in how many visitors ultimately come through, but Bassett said spending on rooms and meals, a major source of tax revenue for the state, has been increasing steadily for the past few years.

Scenic drives and outdoor recreation are particularly popular activities in New Hampshire, as is shopping – because the state has no sales tax.

When summer travel season starts, gas prices usually go up. Gas prices are already at a six-year high, largely due to the growing crisis in the oil-rich Middle East. Experts predict the price of gas will average between $3.60 and $3.70 a gallon this summer, which tops last year’s average of $3.58 per gallon.

Here in New Hampshire, though, the gas prices are lower than anywhere else in New England.

The New Hampshire average for a gallon of gas was $3.66 last week, about one cent below the national average. Every other New England state, however, had an average price above $3.73, with Connecticut hitting nearly $4. New Hampshire’s gas tax went up by 4.2 cents last week, but experts say the price of gas would be increasing and fluctuating regardless.

“The gas tax is such a small component of the entire price of a gallon of gas,” said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England.

Translation for drivers: Fuel up before you cross the border to head home or, for locals, to start your trip elsewhere.

Higher gas prices rarely stop people from taking vacations or keeping travel plans, Moody said. Instead, travelers tend to rework their budgets in order to save more money for gas, whether it’s eliminating a night out or picking less expensive activities.

This year’s prices will be the highest since 2008, but it’s typical for prices to go up this time of year. In the summer, there is higher demand for gasoline because more people are traveling. The mix of gasoline sold in the summer is also slightly different from the one sold in the winter, Moody said. The summer blend of gas is more “environmentally friendly” and it costs slightly more to make, Moody said.

New Hampshire’s record high gas price was July 16, 2008, when it cost $4.05 per gallon.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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