Summer tourism outlook positive for restaurants

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The summer tourism season is beginning, and restaurant operators and analysts see smoother sailing this year than in the last several vacation seasons.

Increased summer restaurant employment projections and improved confidence indexes signal a positive outlook for travel and tourism, which National Restaurant Association research shows produces about 40 percent of restaurant sales.

“We are feeling quite positive on tourism this season,” said Larry Majewski, who with wife, Rebecca Majewski, owns the two-year-old Parador restaurant in Egg Harbor, Wis., in the center of the popular Upper Midwest vacation peninsula known as Door County. “Our bellwether is what the innkeepers report, and their bookings are up this year over last. That’s our No. 1 indicator of how things are looking rosy.”

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Door County draws the majority of its visitors from cities within a few hundred miles, including Chicago and Minneapolis, Minn., as well as Milwaukee and Madison, Wis. Their plans are affected by gas prices, which have fallen into the mid-$3-a-gallon range from around $4 a gallon earlier this year.

Easing prices at the gas pump have helped boost consumer confidence. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment on Friday climbed to 79.3 in May from 76.4 in April. The May figure is the highest since October 2007, before the recession began tightening its grip on travel wallets.

A survey in April by the U.S. Travel Association and MMGY Global found the percentage of U.S. adults expecting to take at least one leisure trip between May and October climbed to 65 percent — up three percentage points from April 2011 and eight percentage points from April 2010, when only 58 percent of U.S. adults said they planned to take a leisure trip in the next six months.

The AAA auto club’s survey of Memorial Day travel plans, which proves to be an indicator of overall summer travel, found 34.8 million Americans planned to take trips of at least 50 miles on the weekend. That was about 500,000 more than planned to travel for Memorial Day 2011 but about equal to the holiday two years ago, the auto club said. About 30.7 million — or 88 percent — of the travelers this year plan to drive, the AAA said.

That figure provides good news for operators like Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., which has many of its 615 units on major arterials. The Lebanon, Tenn.-based company said earlier this week that customer traffic was up in the third-quarter, as it was in the second.

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