How tax-free shopping has moved the needle on tourism in Mt Washington Valley, NH
Good news from Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce – Nov. 6, 2018
Contact: Marti Mayne, 207-846-6331, PR@mtwashingtonvalley.org
HOW SHOPPING TURNED NOVEMBER FROM SLOW TO BLOW (OUT) IN NORTH CONWAY, NH
Shopping events boost tourism in November in Mt Washington Valley, NH
North Conway, NH – Well before retailers decided that the Christmas shopping season starts the day after Halloween, Settler’s Green – North Conway’s largest outlet mall - was banking on Veteran’s Day as the start of the holiday shopping season. For 18 years, the Annual Bring A Friend shopping event at Settlers Green has ushered in the holiday shopping season with Black-Friday-like offers, coupons and the now-famous “bags”, and entertainment on Veteran’s Day weekend. Veteran’s Day is the new Black Friday in North Conway, and throughout Mt Washington Valley. And it certainly helps that it’s tax-free too.
It all started nearly two decades ago with an effort to move the needle on November tourism in Mt Washington Valley. In 2002, the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce launched Harvest To Holidays, a series of events to celebrate and boost the otherwise slow tourism season from Halloween to the start of the holidays. For seven years, the chamber assembled hundreds of gift bags for shoppers which lodging properties packaged in with coupons from retailers and the Settlers Green Bring A Friend event to create fun shopping packages. Quickly, November turned into a month dedicated to girlfriends shopping getaways and grew busier and busier with each successive year.
“The first year was all about VIP treatments, mini massages, wine tasting, entertainment, making women feel appreciated and special for choosing to spend their weekend in North Conway,” said Dot Seybold, General Manager of Settlers Green and founder of the Bring A Friend event. “The first year was small, maybe two or three hundred people came,” Dot recalled, explaining that the event has moved from one weekend originally to a ten day event today. This year she estimates 3000 to 4000 shoppers will come for the second weekend alone. “We will run out of the 2500 shoppers bags (filled with coupons, samples and a few gift certificates and prizes within) before 9 am. Thousands have already been shopping this past weekend, thousands more will come next weekend. We sold out of 500 online bags in less than 24 hours,” she explained.
When asked about the key to the success of the Annual Bring A Friend event, Dot explains it’s a combination of many things. “Retailer cooperation in offering the very best deals throughout the weekend. Tens of thousands of dollars in advertising. Fun. Giving shoppers great food, entertainment, surprises, gifts, and of course, the BAGS!” are the keys to the event says Dot.
“We promoted the Harvest to Holiday gift bags for lodging members for seven years starting in 2002. Settlers Green has continued the marketing with their Veterans Day Girlfriends shopping event and now half way to shopping event in the Spring,” said Janice Crawford, Executive Director of the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The event has truly been a boon for shopping but restaurants and lodging feel the love as well and now with Plaid Fridays, Small Business Saturday events too, the specialty and independently-owned retail operations feel the boon as well. Tax Free also still speaks loudly to our shoppers.” Finished Crawford.
The November shopping events have an impact on retailers and hotels throughout Mt Washington Valley. Carol Sullivan, Director of Sales and Marketing at the White Mountain Hotel and Resort in North Conway, explained the impact that shopping has had on the hotel’s bottom line for November. “Prior to the Chamber’s marketing of what was called “Shop Till you Drop”, which was first marketed over Veterans Day Weekend, November weekends were fairly soft at the White Mountain Hotel. The Chamber’s idea to partner with Settlers Green and market the second weekend in November, and now including the first weekend in November, was brilliant. It not only filled two soft weekends but created a niche piece of business that is not weather dependent or reliant on fall foliage,” noted Carol.
“After the Chamber successfully created and marketed the concept, they stepped back from marketing this event, however, we at the White Mountain Hotel continued to strongly market and sell these weekends to shoppers exclusively,” commented Carol Sullivan. We consistently sell-out the first two weekends of November and, in addition, we market our own “Girlfriends Spa Weekend” the third weekend of November with great success as well,” said Carol. More importantly, she added, “From a revenue point of view these weekends are important to us, because they generate occupancy and drive REV PAR in November, which was historically a softer month. In addition, business that is not weather dependent is always a plus.”
With the formation of the White Mountain Independents, a group of independently and locally owned stores throughout Mt Washington Valley, the November shopping season has grown beyond the outlets. In fact, we heard from retailers like Timothy Psaledakis at Jewelry by Tim and Friends in North Conway Village, “A couple years ago we started to participate in the Local Shopping Saturday (following Black Friday) with an unprecedented 50-percent off, one-day-only, sale. This has boosted our numbers for November appreciably,” he commented.
With their holiday gift certificate sale in early November and Shop Local events later in December, independent retailers join North Conway’s outlets to celebrate and boost shopping in the Valley in November. Add in the Eastern Slope Ski Club (ESSC) sale this weekend, and even the non-profit organizations are getting in on the November shopping frenzy.
These shopping events draw people from not only throughout the country but throughout the world. A quick look at the Settler’s Green Facebook page reveals one couple from the U.K. who say they’ve heard about the event across the pond and wouldn’t miss it, and another Canadian couple who’s daughter is flying from Spain to North Conway to get in on the event. “I know personally the shoppers that book on these weekends look forward to this trip away with their girlfriends and family all year,” said Carol Sullivan. “It has become a very important part of their vacation planning and Christmas shopping tradition. I have several groups that return year after year and one in particular will celebrate 20 years at the White Mountain Hotel next November,” Carol finished.
“What did we do before Bring A Friend?” pondered Dot Seybold. “The hotels are full, restaurants are full, village stores are full. There's enough business to go around and we are grateful the community has supported us through the years.” she finished.
Indeed, the tourism community in Mt Washington Valley is grateful for the boon that shopping has generated for the local economy. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and there isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t think of and thank Janice Crawford and the MWV Chamber of Commerce and Settlers Green for developing and marketing this concept for November Shoppers Weekends,” said Carol Sullivan. “For us it has been a win/win and with the new and increased footprint of Settlers Green, all of our wonderful Valley Independents and great restaurant offerings, I only see the concept growing,” mused Sullivan.
Between the Annual Bring A Friend event, Black Friday, Plaid Saturday, and individual businesses’ sales, November has grown to be one of the most important tourism months. With ski resorts opening and holiday events added to the mix, November is hopping and shopping in Mt Washington Valley.
For more information on Mt Washington Valley’s shopping and holiday events, visit www.MtWashigntonValley.org or call 800-367-3364. To learn more about tax-free shopping getaways in New Hampshire, go to www.VisitNH.gov.
# # #
Photos provided by Settlers Green of Bring A Friend Weekends. Please contact Marti Mayne at PR@mtwashingtonvalley.org for additional photos.