The Island may be busier this summer, if advance reservations on the Steamship Authority are an indication.
Reservations for vehicle passage from Woods Hole to the Vineyard are up 3.5 per cent over last year, and bookings in the other direction are up 4.6 per cent, according to data collected by the Steamship Authority at the end of April.
“It is a good sign,” said Wayne C. Lamson, general manager of the boat line. “It makes up a good percentage of our traffic, but there are also a lot of people who wait until the last minute to make their plans.”
At the end of April in 2013, there were 48,276 vehicle reservations going to the Island; this year, there were 49,985. Coming back from the Vineyard, there were 46,906 last year and 49,073 this past April. Advance vehicle reservations for both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are up five per cent for the year. For both routes there were 130,738 bookings last year at the end of April, and 137,122 this year.
While Nantucket bookings saw a bigger uptick than the Vineyard in terms of percentage change, the Vineyard route carries more vehicles. Nantucket also runs fewer ferry trips, so it is more difficult to make reservations, Mr. Lamson said.
The totals include all types of vehicles, including trucks. The increase may also account for a surge in construction activity, with contractors reserving more space on the vessels for summer work, Mr. Lamson said. Advance automobile reservations for summer travel opened up to the general public starting Jan. 14 by mail and online, and Jan. 21 by telephone.
Those who make reservations soon after the new year have relatively fixed travel plans and tend to be renters or second home owners, Mr. Lamson said. “It is the leading indicator of how the summer may be turning out, but then as we all know, we are kind of dependent on weather,” Mr. Lamson said.
Other visitors may have tentative, weather-dependent plans or not know enough about the Vineyard to book in advance. Those who make more impulsive travel plans are encouraged to get on the SSA waiting list for travel during weekends and busy periods. The boat line has a reservations-only program that takes effect Memorial Day weekend and remains in effect for peak periods including weekends throughout the summer. There is no standby for autos during these periods, but travelers can book same-day reservations if space is available.
The total numbers for advance reservations are calculated through Oct. 13, which includes Columbus Day weekend.
“The economy is picking up,” Mr. Lamson said.
The trend continued with parking lots a bit busier this past Memorial Day Weekend, Mr. Lamson said. Hard numbers confirming an uptick in parking transactions and shuttle bus passengers would not be available until later in the week, he said. As usual, the SSA opened the Gifford street, Cataumet and Sun parking lots as well as the Palmer avenue lot to accommodate all the walk-on passengers looking to park for the weekend. Next summer, those lots will be eliminated, and additional parking will instead be provided off Thomas B. Landers Road in East Falmouth.
Memorial Day weekend traffic was also up on the Seastreak, which operates high-speed ferry service from New Bedford and New York city.
Operations manager John Silvia said the ferry carried more passengers than it has in recent years.
“We had a really good holiday weekend,” he said this week.
The Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which operates high-speed summer service between Quonset Point, R.I. and Oak Bluffs, expects its 11th season to be busier than last year.
“It was a great weekend for us; most of our trips were sold out, and we are anticipating a great season going forward,” said Charlie Donadio, president of the fast ferry company.
While specific numbers were proprietary, he said advance bookings are definitely up. He credited the company’s new luxury catamaran and the convenient access to Amtrak and the Providence airport, which cuts down on the time its passengers have to spend in traffic.
“We save people three hours both ways,” he said. “That is a big selling point.”
This summer Cape Air is expecting increased traffic on its nine-passenger planes which travel to the Vineyard from Nantucket, Boston, New Bedford, Westchester County, Providence and Hyannis. Overall, advance bookings on their flights to the Island are up three per cent over last year, with even larger increases in some markets, said Trish Lorino, vice president of marketing and public relations.
Flights between Boston and the Island are seeing a seven per cent uptick in bookings, and those to New Bedford are seeing an 11 per cent increase.
Bookings on the route between Westchester County and the Vineyard are up 21 per cent over last year.
“We are seeing a nice uptick for summer travel,” Ms. Lorino said.
She said the company is very optimistic about the season.
“You have so many people who are loyal to the Vineyard; they don’t even think about going somewhere else,” she said.
Cape Air president Linda Markham said she wouldn’t say the economy has completely turned around from the national recession, but she is encouraged by the number of customers looking to fly this summer.
Many who purchase flights to the Island are attracted by the First Family visit, Ms. Markham said. “That plays a major factor in the number of passengers we get,” she said.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed for great weather and we are looking forward to a great season,” she said.