- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

The idea of a January day at the shore evokes images of frigid, white-capped waves, stinging, wind-whipped sand and cold toes — not quite a day at the beach.

But unseasonably warm weather this fall and winter has sent Washingtonians and other East Coast dwellers away from ski resorts and sledding hills and toward the region’s beaches.

“It seems like early fall never left,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “Everybody is trying to take advantage of the beach. Especially on the weekends, the boardwalk is packed.”

The number of visitors to Ocean City climbed 10 percent from last year, to more than 1.5 million, for October through December, according to the Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau and Department of Tourism. Golf courses have reported a 5 percent jump in business during the late fall and early winter compared with a year ago.

The same is true at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where the number of visitors has been up between 10 percent and 20 percent from August to November compared with last year.

All of the area’s beaches have been pushing their “shoulder months” — after Labor Day and before Memorial Day — for about a decade, trying to keep tourist money flowing at the beach during the off-season.

But Mother Nature apparently has been more persuasive than even the best advertising campaign.

Last month was the seventh warmest December recorded at Washington Dulles International Airport, according to the National Weather Service. The average high temperature there was 53 degrees, 7 degrees above the average historic high. November’s average high was 2 degrees above the historic high.

“The weather helps,” said Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “It helps the transient market — those that have a long weekend and those people within a half-day drive to the Outer Banks. That good weather just reinforces the decision to come to the beach here. Of course … we always like to think the advertising and [public relations] efforts do come into play.”

January is traditionally the slowest month at northern beaches, but that also means that hotel costs are at their lowest — down to about $39 per night in the Outer Banks.

In other news …

• Maryland this month will host its first summit for the hospitality and tourism industry focusing on the problems and economic effects of maintaining a qualified work force. The summit, hosted by the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board, a group responsible for developing policy on labor issues, will be held Jan. 23 at the University of Maryland Conference Center in Adelphi.

• As Amazon.com counts its receipts for the past year, it appears pirates and chicks were among the best-sellers.

The top-selling video on Amazon.com was “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” according to the online retailer. The top-selling music item was “Taking the Long Way,” the latest album by the Dixie Chicks. The top-selling book was “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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