As Tourism Picks Up, Boston's Economy Improves

Like most of America, Boston was hit hard by the recession. But it appears to be clawing its way back. The tourism industry is optimistic that hiring will pick up as the weather warms and visitors return for the first time in a couple of years.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

CHRIS ARNOLD: And I'm Chris Arnold in Boston, where things aren't totally great, but there are some signs that parts of the local economy are starting to see some growth again. Tourism, in particular, is starting to pick back up, which bodes well for jobs.

Down here at Boston's waterfront, you can see more tourists around these days. I'm actually on a ferry boat that's leaving the dock with a group of retirees on the top deck.

Hey, are you guy's tourists?

Mr. TROY STRICKLAND: We are.

Ms. CORINNE STRICKLAND: We are.

ARNOLD: The map of Boston in your front pocket gave it away, I think.

Ms. STRICKLAND: Was that a (unintelligible)?

Mr. STRICKLAND: Now, you mean we dont look like we're locals, is that correct?

(Soundbite of ferry boat horn)

Ms. STRICKLAND: Whoa. Did you do that?

ARNOLD: Troy Strickland and his wife Corinne are here from Birmingham, Alabama. They just finished a tour of the famous sailing gun ship, the USS Constitution.

ARNOLD: How are you enjoying the trip to Boston so far?

Mr. STRICKLAND: It's fantastic. Weve been here before and we brought a couple with us that's not been.

ARNOLD: The airport here reports a 7.1 percent increase in passengers so far this year. The State Office of Travel and Tourism says visits to Massachusetts from other countries are up 11 percent. And all that helps to create more jobs. There's hotels, taxi drivers, restaurants and all sorts of other small businesses that you might not think of.

Mr. ANDY CHASON (Founder, SleepAfloat.com): Well, this is one of the newer houseboats that weve just had built.

ARNOLD: Over on the shore, Andy Chason is walking is walking along a dock. He's the founder of SleepAfloat.com. He has a growing fleet of houseboats here in Boston Harbor. He rents them out to tourists, he says, as a more fun alternative to hotel rooms.

Mr. CHASON: You get more space than you get in a regular hotel. Plus, you get a full kitchen. They can sit up on that roof deck and, you know, have a nice cup of coffee on the water in the morning.

ARNOLD: Chason says with business and bookings for this summer picking up, he started hiring people. He used to just run the company with one assistant.

Mr. CHASON: And now we have about six to eight people and we hope to double and triple that over the next year or two.

ARNOLD: Chason shows me around the inside of one of the houseboats.

Mr. CHASON: Back here is the main bedroom.

ARNOLD: Oh, nice.

Mr. CHASON: It's got two windows that are stained glass. We sunk a fortune into it, and eventually, if things work, we'll get a nice return on it.

ARNOLD: This is what economists are looking for; an upward spiral where more business activity leads to more jobs and more investments as companies plow more money again into expansion. Overall though, it's still pretty fragile, and even in Massachusetts, the unemployment rate remains up around nine percent, but it is starting to move in the right direction.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.

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