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by Clarke Canfield

Old Orchard Beach, ME – Months of perfect weather in northern New England have helped the region’s tourism industry rebound from a dismal 2009, but consumers still wary of the economy have been tight with their money and shopping for bargain-basement prices.

Overall, hotel occupancy rates have increased, more people are stopping at visitor information centers and highway traffic has risen, officials said. Businesses that rely on tourists say more customers — but not free-spending ones — are coming through their doors.

Ami Ben, owner of Paradise Beachwear in the seaside tourist town of Old Orchard Beach, is glad to see crowds back after incessant rains and a bleak economy kept visitors away last summer. Still, he said, many customers are looking only for discounted deals, and a lot are paying by credit card because they don’t have the cash.

“There are more sales, but less profit,” he said.

Tourism is northern New England’s biggest industry, drawing tens of millions of visitors each year. In Maine, for instance, tourism pumps $10 billion to $13 billion into the state economy each year and employs 140,000 workers, which is nearly 22 percent of the state’s work force, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

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