Smiles and Sadness at Tourism Conference
The Governor’s Conference on Tourism was at times interesting, entertaining, and sobering. Held yesterday at the Grand Summit Resort Hotel at Sunday River, the conference offered a mix of speeches, awards, and seminars, as well as a mixed report on the status of the state’s tourism industry.
The Maine Tourism Association unveiled its new 2012 Maine Invites You travel planner. This guide goes to all who seek information about vacationing in Maine, and includes three pieces that I wrote: one on sporting camps and guides, one on birding, and one that’s a profile of Maine guide Don Kleiner.
Down East magazine had a booth and it was good to see Vice President and Group Publisher John Viehman and Editor in Chief Paul Doiron there.
Steve Fuller, L.L. Bean’s Chief Marketing Officer, gave a terrific speech outlining many exciting initiatives that Maine’s top tourist attraction in Freeport will launch in this it’s 100th.
The excitement was tempered as the day progressed and I heard about the recent suicide attempt of an Innkeeper and owner of one of my favorite Maine restaurants who is suffering severe financial problems. A friend who owns a large resort in the North Woods lamented the tough snowless winter, wondering if his business will make it to the more prosperous summer. The entire town of Greenville was raised up as being in serious trouble: no deer, no ice, no snow, no customers.
Thank God for the energy and enthusiasm of Carolanne Ouellette, Director of Maine’s Office of Tourism. After operating her own restaurant in Jackman for ten years, she knows just how tough it can be in rural Maine, and she’s doing everything she can to bring aid and comfort to the tourism industry there.
While Steve Fuller’s speech was exciting, Carolanne’s was most compelling for me, demonstrating that her office’s programming and marketing decisions are driven by good science, research, and data. Here are a few things that I learned.
Visits to Maine were up 8.5 percent in 2011 over 2010. But I can tell you, based on the many trips Linda and I took last year for our weekly travel column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, the coast got most of that increase. Inland tourist-based businesses continued to struggle.
The state grabbed $400 million in taxes from tourists in 2011, a return of $8 for every $1 invested. 9.5 million overnight visitors and 13.8 million day visitors enjoyed our state last year, and 35 percent did so to experience some kind of outdoor recreation – the leading reason tourists come to our state.
They didn’t stay here as long as we’d like and most were not first time visitors. Most come because Maine is close, they own a second home here, or they have family here.
Two million individuals got information at www.visitmaine.com, an impressive 28 percent increase over 2010. And the tourism office’s facebook fans increased from 3,000 to 45,000 in 2011: amazing!
Every visitor, including the affluent, is focused on value these days, and risk free vacations. To me, that defines Maine. So why aren’t we doing better? Well, I gathered lots of opinions yesterday and will report on those later.
For sure, tourism is a competitive market and our investment – specifically in marketing our state – is minimal. And sometimes, even when we do everything right, it doesn’t snow. Perhaps our collective prayers for snow yesterday are being answered today! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!