The state of tourism is always a hot topic in Door County. Residents talk a lot about how the tourist season is, was and will be, usually pointing to anecdotal evidence like traffic and weekend lodging vacancies.
The Door County Tourism Zone Commission, the organization charged with overseeing room tax collections, released June room tax numbers Aug. 18. Those returns showed a slight increase in revenue in June of 1.8 percent over the same month in 2010. Lodging establishments filled 55,039 room nights in June. That’s 12 more room nights than the same month last year.
That’s welcome news after May returns were down 5.6 percent from May of 2010. For the year to date room tax revenues are down 0.7 percent, though even a small increase in July and August would put annual returns ahead of last year.
Door County Visitor Bureau Director of Communications Jon Jarosh said Room Tax and Sales Tax Revenues are the best gauge of how well the summer is. He won’t get a complete picture of the season until December, when returns through October are released.
Jarosh said the Visitor Bureau has had its hands full helping tourists of late, however.
“We’ve been pretty busy,” Jarosh said. “It’s been tough to find people rooms the last few weekends.”
Other restaurant and store owners said they’ve noticed at least the same number of people if not more around the Door so far in 2011.
Mike Jacobsen said he’s seen an increase not only in the number of people patronizing his Fish Creek BP gas station, but also more people purchasing items other than petroleum.
Last summer for example, people would buy a loaf of bread and lunch meat from the convenience store, then head to the car to make sandwiches.
“This year it seems people are buying more sandwiches instead of making their own,” Jacobsen said.
In addition, more campers have frequented Jacobsen’s gas station to buy a cup of coffee and a newspaper in the morning than last year.
“The people are milling around a little bit,” Jacobsen said. “I don’t know if it’s because we changed the store layout or what, but they’re buying things whereas last year they weren’t.”
Heavily dependent on good weather, Fred “Fuzzy” Sunstrom, owner of Fred & Fuzzy’s Bar & Grill located at Little Sister Resort in Sister Bay, said cold temperatures in June hurt his business. However, the rising mercury in July put the restaurant back on track.
“We’ve been doing as well or better for July and August,” Sunstrom said.
Numbers for guests staying at the Little Sister Resort have also increased this summer, with Sunstrom saying “the resort is as full as it’s ever been.”
Since his business, with all outdoor seating, is so weather dependent, Sunstrom said his observations aren’t a great gauge for the rest of Door County.
Nikki DeFere, a server at Shipwrecked Brew Pub in Egg Harbor, said she’s heard from managers that the establishment is right on track with other years, but acknowledged that it feels slower to her.
“Usually the first few weeks before the Fourth [of July] are just crazy, but this year it didn’t really hit us until the Fourth,” DeFere said.
Despite what felt like a slow start, DeFere said patrons are tipping their servers well, and she felt like she has made as much money as previous seasons.
Down the road from Shipwrecked at the Egg Harbor Lodge, Sarah Sawyer said inclement weather in May hurt reservations, but her business picked up in June and has stayed busy through July and August.
She said the heat in Illinois and southern Wisconsin has people looking for an escape.
“As long as it’s hot in other places, we’ll keep doing well,” she said. “[Guests] think the weather is great here.”