CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Hotels and inns in sales tax-free New Hampshire are trying to lure Black Friday shoppers with stay-and-shop packages that come with tempting free gifts or services:
A free purse stuffed with energy bars and coupons to outlet stores. Gift wrapping accompanied by hors d’oeuvres. Shuttle service to the mall.
There have been few takers so far. But that’s not so unusual.
“The same thing happened last year; it was last-minute, it was all the day before,” said Donnie Sullivan, manager of the Country Inn & Suites in Bedford. The hotel is offering a two-night stay starting at $145 for two, with a $50 gift card to a local restaurant and a shuttle service to the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester. Last year, “we had to find a bigger shuttle,” he said.
Hotel and inn managers say such last-minute bookings in New Hampshire, one of five states without a sales tax, have become common as travelers remain cautious about their budgets and watch for good weather.
“As the economy gets better and people become more comfortable, they will book out a little further,” said Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel and Lodging Association.
New Hampshire does require hotels to collect a 9 percent lodging tax.
Delaware, Oregon, Montana and Alaska also don’t charge shoppers a sales tax, but hotels there don’t appear to be pushing Black Friday stays as much as those in New Hampshire. In Delaware, some hotels offer year-round shopping packages. And in Portland, Ore., some hotels are offering guests $50 cash for a two-night booking through the holiday season.
New Hampshire aggressively markets itself as a shopping destination, especially targeting neighboring states and Canada. In Vermont, a new study by business groups concludes the state’s 6 percent sales tax continues to stunt commercial growth along its eastern border because shoppers flock to New Hampshire to avoid paying it. Massachusetts has a 6.25 percent sales tax. Maine’s is 5 percent.
In New Hampshire, the Highlander Inn, near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, is offering its second Black Friday “shopping frenzy” package for the night of Nov. 26 for $109.99 for two. Guests receive a coupon booklet for the mall with shuttle service that leaves as early as 4 a.m. No one booked the package last year, but that hasn’t deterred hotel management, which is considering other shopping-lodging packages for the future.
“I think the economy still plays a little bit of a role in it, especially now with the holiday season,” said Rebecca Gesking, the front office manager.
The Cranmore Mountain Lodge in North Conway, N.H. offers guests the purses with shopping coupons for area outlet stores and vouchers for local restaurants. Two-night packages start at $212 with the lodging tax. The hotel encourages green practices, so guests with a hybrid car get a $20 voucher toward a future stay.
Marilyn Gordon, owner of the Candlelite Inn in Bradford, usually offers a holiday shoppers’ weekend package. This year is the first time she’s doing it for Black Friday, in conjunction with the Tanger Outlet-Tilton’s fourth annual Magic of Midnight Sale Thanksgiving evening. Rates start at $181, including the lodging tax.
Guests will get a voucher for a free outlet coupon book with more than $350 in savings. The outlet mall is about 40 minutes from the inn; Gordon encourages travelers to take scenic drives along back roads to get there and gives them directions. When they return, she’ll have wrapping paper, bows and boxes ready, plus cookies, hot chocolate, hors d’oeuvres and a light supper for them.
Gordon believes retail outlets have gotten more aggressive with promoting Black Friday deals, with stores giving better discounts and better deals than they have in the past.
“And that’s what people are looking for; they’re looking for value for their money, ... even (when) looking for a bed and breakfast,” Gordon said.
New Hampshire retailers have been vigorously promoting discounts since the start of the month, and many communities have seized upon the “shop local” idea. Dover, in the southeast corner of the state and just minutes from the Maine border, started a “Shop Dover First” campaign in October.
People who buy something from a Dover business — whether it’s a gift, gasoline or groceries — can enter those purchases online or drop them in an entry box. The local chamber of commerce periodically draws names for shopping sprees. The last drawing for the year, to be awarded Dec. 17, is expected to be worth more than $2,500 in gift cards and services from local businesses.
“The goal is to try to create an awareness and education and a mindset among the general public of ’This is what I need to do to make a difference,’” said Aaron Wensley, chamber marketing manager. “If you like these stores and you want them to stay, we need to all shop at these. These are the places that are sponsoring your kids’ Little League team.”
Dorrie Wortley, a 51-year-old credit union employee from Rochester, N.H., has made Black Friday a shopping a ritual. Her sister-in-law drives up each year for Thanksgiving from Wallingford, Conn., a state with a 6 percent sales tax. Then they’re at it early Friday. Sometimes they set the alarm clock; other times, they just stay up all night Thursday.
“She checks all the specials. She has her daughter’s and her family’s lists,” Wortley said. “Of course, I pick up things along the way, too. ... There are unannounced sales.” After that, they relax with a glass of wine.