Primary 2012
3:12 pm
Tue January 10, 2012

How Much Does The Primary Actually Help NH Tourism?

In an earlier post, we spent a fair amount of time breaking down the economic impact of New Hampshire primary spending. (You can read that post here.)

But there was one aspect we didn't really touch on, and that's the money generated by tourists who come here to watch the First In The Nation primary up-close and in person.

And there are a lot of them, as reporter Tricia Naldony of the Concord Monitor writes:

"At a Santorum event in Hollis on Saturday, one audience member told the candidate that local voters were standing outside because the room was at capacity. A few minutes before, more than a third of the audience raised their hands when Santorum asked how many were from out of state. Only those with a valid New Hampshire driver's license, he told them with a laugh, should ask questions."

Naldony notes that while a number of these visitors appear to be supporters of a specific candidate, others are students, political junkies, or simply anxious to drink in a spot of quadrennial Americana.

So how much are these kinds of visits worth to New Hampshire?

That's a hard one to put a finger on. But (as we mentioned in another post) economists Ross Gittell and Brian Gottlob tried to break it down a bit in their study of the economic impacts of the 2000 primary. (Their PowerPoint presentation is embedded at the bottom of this post.)

Here are the key figures they cite:

  • Media and visitor spending: $71 million
  • Hotel/Restaurant sales: $43 million
  • Transportation/Commuting-related sales: $33 million

Of course, when looking at the data, it's tough to separate media spending from what other visitors, like political tourists, are laying out. Hotel, restaurant, and transportation sales could also be a combination of political spending, media spending, and tourists. But what's intriguing is the notion that primary coverage actually encourages tourism to New Hampshire even in the years-long political off-season. Gittell and Gottlob estimated that positive impressions of New Hampshire generated by the media's primary coverage added-up to $6.6 million in tourism marketing.

As noted in the excerpt of Naldony's Concord Monitor article above, the spike in political tourism can be an annoyance for serious New Hampshire voters attending campaign events. But there can also be a stark contrast between the Granite Staters who have to live with a drawn-out political season, and the visitors who come to take in the civic engagement.

We're talking about that all-important staple of retail politics: Riding the diner circuit to talk to "Ordinary Americans."

For political tourists, the Candidate Diner Visit is a must-see show:

"At Mary Ann's Diner in Derry yesterday, four old college buddies from Holy Cross crammed into a booth as Santorum worked his way through the crowd.

'We're political junkies,' said 68-year-old Dave Martel. A supporter of President Obama, he wasn't struggling to decide whom to vote for come Election Day...

The four friends, who live near each other in western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut, came to New Hampshire yesterday morning and started their day in Manchester, where Ron Paul stopped by MoeJoe's Family Restaurant for breakfast.

They went to a Newt Gingrich event next before stopping by the 1950s-themed diner for lunch — and an up-close look at Santorum."

That stands out in stark contrast to how customers at Colby's Breakfast & Lunch in Portsmouth reportedly feel. As Charles McMahon reported for SeacoastOnline.com, customers were so fed up with having their meals disturbed by glad-handing politicians, the restaurant issued a blanket ban on political visits:

"'I find it incredibly rude,' said [owner Jeremy] Colby, who said his political views are as liberal as they come. 'I also find it amusing that they talk about how the economy and small business is so important, yet they are OK with creating a disturbance that impacts my small business.'...

'I don't appreciate Joe Blow coming in here and whoring around the dining room for votes,' he said."

So while the state overall might see some economic benefit from primary tourism, for individual businesses–and voters–the momentary spike in activity might not be worth it, or even benefit the bottom line.

Copyright 2012 StateImpact New Hampshire. To see more, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org/new-hampshire/.