With Memorial Day Weekend upon us, the summer tourism season is about to hit full swing. Experts in the tourism industry seem to have a positive outlook for the season and are doing everything in their power to show the world that Yosemite, Oakhurst and other Mountain Area communities have much to offer.
Dannion Cunning, CEO of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, is positive those efforts are paying off.
"All indications are that we will experience a better than average tourism season," Cunning said. "We are experiencing an early spring, families are beginning to make plans to enjoy our region, and that is demonstrated by the number of informational inquires that come through the visitor center."
Mountain Area hotels
Cunning said projected hotel occupancy looks to be on the positive side with continued visitation, both domestically and internationally.
Jerry Rankin, general manager at Oakhurst's Comfort Inn, is also looking forward to a good summer even though last summer proved to be a little disappointing.
"Last year, early on, it looked good and then ... we wound up having a pretty average summer -- not the good one I expected," Rankin said. "This year is different. The thing that makes me feel it will be a good summer is the early bookings both in the summer and first of the year."
Rankin said the inn's gross income since Jan. 1 is already up 30% over last year.
"That's really good because winter around here is essentially dead, but we had a good winter and are having a very good spring and that's sending us into summer in good shape."
Rankin said two of the reasons behind this year's boost in overnight guests is the tour bus business seems to be doing better and there are more foreign individual travelers coming through Oakhurst to see Yosemite. He said they are even experiencing sell-out nights mid-week -- something they usually only experience on weekends.
"Some days I'm having to scramble to find rooms," Rankin said. "When that's the case with me, that's probably the case with other hotels in Oakhurst. We're pleased as we can be and my problem now is making sure I don't over-book and that I have enough rooms."
Paul Ratchford, general manager at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, said the lodge saw a significant increase in visitors last summer and this summer is looking good as well. Ratchford said traditionally, Tenaya doesn't do a lot of outbound marketing, but this year they decided to do so and he said those efforts have paid off.
"This year has started off for us very strong," Ratchford said. "We are ahead of last year significantly through April. Our forecast for this summer is consistent with last year. We are seeing a good reservation pace for June, but still have a little bit of work for July and August but are confident those numbers will fill in. We are enjoying our best year so far."
Ratchford said Tenaya sees about 30,000 guests every month from June through August and almost 45,000 dining guests each of those months. He said Tenaya has been experiencing 96% occupancy the last couple years. He also added that the majority of tourists that stay at Tenaya over the summer months come from outside California.
To keep customers coming back -- Ratchford says 25% of their clientele is returning customers -- they have been doing new things to keep Tenaya fresh such as expanding the pool last summer, adding a children's pool and expanding the popular family summer barbecue to five nights a week.
However, being next to Yosemite will always be their biggest selling point. Ratchford said national parks have the reputation of being family oriented vacation spots with great values that offer a connection to nature -- and that attracts visitors.
"I think national parks are on people's bucket lists," he said. "I think that's part of reconnecting with the outdoors and I think it's a great way for families to stay connected and experience something different. Tenaya, being a major resort in a Yosemite gateway community, gives us a great opportunity to benefit from that."
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite media spokesperson Scott Gediman said the summer tourism season has already begun in the park. Because of this year's light snowpack, both Glacier and Gediman is excited about how that will affect the park this weekend.
"With the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, having these roads (Glacier and Tioga) open is great for the visitors and helps overall with parking and traffic flow," Gediman said. "There have been years when those roads are closed for Memorial Day, and it brings more cars to the valley because they don't have anywhere else to go and that leads to congestion."
Lisa Cesaro, spokesperson for Delaware North Companies in Yosemite, said Yosemite hotels and tent cabins have strong bookings, but there are still a few nights available for last minute trips to the park.
"We have a great summer season ahead and look forward to welcoming visitors for the first time and those who have been coming to Yosemite for many years as a family tradition," Cesaro said. "People should keep in mind that there are numerous activities, hiking trails, lodging and iconic vistas to enjoy while in Yosemite."
Other activities include horseback and mule rides, bicycle rentals and family programs. However, Gediman wants to remind the public that it is much too early for wading and swimming in Yosemite.
Businesses at Bass Lake are also preparing for the summer season and The Pines Resort has been making some changes for the season. Sun Wha Choe, co-owner of the resort, said the resort increases its staff by about 60 for the summer. She said they expect a busy summer and already have more summer and fall reservations booked this year compared to the same time last year.
With the Bass Lake Dam Retrofit complete, the lake is now back at normal levels and Choe said she's received positive feedback because of that.
Leslie Cox, owner of The Forks Resort and president of the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, said in preperation for the summer season, the chamber ran an ad campaign and area establishments are filling up with reservations.
"The summer is shaping up really well," Cox said. "The weather, of course, plays a big part in how our spring pans out, and we had a really good spring with gorgeous weather."
Not to be forgotten are some of the gift shops where tourists can purchase a memento of their trip to take home. One of those shops is Oakhurst Giftworks and owner Sue Graham speculates that this summer might be busier than normal because of proposed changes to Yosemite through the Merced River Plan. Graham said that people will want to see the park as it is before any changes are implemented.
To attract tourists to her store, Graham said she has been bumping up her landscaping around the shop and put up a "Welcome to Oakhurst" sign. She has also been increasing her advertising through Facebook and the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau and is ready for the season to begin.
"We have all the shelves full and new stuff every day," Graham said. "90% of our business is local, but tourists are always the cherry on top."
Graham's business has been open for almost 31 years. She credits her longevity to maintaining regular store hours and being friendly to every person that walks through her doors.
Another long-standing business in town that's ready for the summer season is the Purple Cow Mall in Oakhurst, owned by Charles Davis for 22 years.
"It's time to make hay while the sun shines," Davis said. "We're looking forward to the summer. I hear from customers that the feel the economy is getting better and I expect that will result in more sales this summer."
Davis said so far this year his sales are already up 30 % over last year at this time.
"There are still businesses in Oakhurst that don't get it," Davis said. "I attribute the increase in sales to being open when customers want me to be open -- We are open seven days a week and are consistently open when we are scheduled to be open. That is critical along with offering good merchandise at reasonable prices, and, of course, it's important to provide good service to your customers."