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A More Modest Vacation Season Shapes Up On The Cape

This is why my job is awesome. I get to interview Mark Downey on the balcony of his hotel resort in Dennis Port, Cape Cod, while gazing out at the ocean on a sunny day.

It's two pretty basic hotels: The Corsair and The Cross Rip, $200 or $300 a night in season. So, cheaper than a lot of Cape vacations.

"We don't say cheaper, by the way," Downey corrects me. "We say cost effective, efficient. There are many other words you can use."

Downey says they did really well last summer when everyone was driving instead of flying. And he's not expecting a bad summer this year; he's just not expecting a great summer.

"And some of those regulars that we have coming every year," Downey says, "they may have gone from a week-stay to a five-night stay, or maybe they went down from ocean-front room, and they went down to an ocean-view room, and they reduced the price down."

His advanced-booking numbers were off at the beginning of the year, but they're bouncing back now. Same goes for the Cape Codder Resort a few towns away. It's little higher end. Bill Catania showed me around.

"That's actually a wave pool," Bill Catania says as he shows me around. "It's shut off right now."

Wondering what a wave pool is? Catania provides some clarity: "It makes waves."

Catania runs a bunch of inns and restaurants in the area, and like everyone else I talked to, he said people are waiting longer before booking their vacations. It reminds him of the months after 9/11 when people didn't want to make any plans.

"You know, and then as time went on, they realized the sky's not falling," Catania says. "There is going to be a tomorrow. It's okay to still live."

But it's tough to get a fix on how much living we're all going to do this summer. Last July a survey by Allstate Insurance said consumers were going to cut their 2009 travel spending almost in half. But that was last July.

Wendy Northcross heads up the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. She says the consumer-confidence index is the primary indicator you would look at to predict what the summer is going to look like. She also says it's so low right now she can barely look at it.

"And it belies what I'm hearing from my members, that advanced bookings are actually pretty good," Northcross says. "Because I think people are going to shift to a less flashy vacation, an affordable vacation, one that's nearby."

Maybe a single-family house near the beach instead of a resort. And if anybody knows about that market it's Jeff Talmadge. He and his wife Joan run the Web site weneedavacation.com. It's a listing service for single-family house rentals. Jeff says the homeowners will usually start lowering their prices in June if they're not fully booked.

"This year for the first time, especially on the islands — Vineyard and Nantucket — homeowners are starting to lower their prices already," Talmadge says. "Definitely there's a nervousness out there that we have never seen, which comes as no surprise given the economy that we have never seen before."

For a while one client was offering an early-bird discount. Her ad says: Recession buster. Her name's Nickie Lisella. She rents out a four-bedroom house for $2,250 a week in-season. But she just dropped the price to $1,950 because she only has one week of the summer rented. There's a lot of competition out there she says.

"This woman called me the other day," Lisella recalls. "And she said, 'Okay, I'll let you know we're looking at a few places. I'll get back to you.'"

It's really a renter's market right now, in Lisella's view.

So, in the end, it doesn't seem that we're skipping vacations as much as spending less on them. Another thing, Mark Downey, the resort owner, told me is that he's getting calls from people who usually book flashier getaways on the Cape.

"So those guests are calling me," Downey says. "To say, 'Hey, we've always stayed on the ocean, it's just too pricey here. We'd like to come stay in your place. You offer similar things, you're just not as big.'"

Downey agrees with me when I tell him he's a beneficiary of the recession in that way. And if Marketplace keeps sending me out to do seaside interviews like this one, I won't need a vacation.

This program aired on April 17, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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