If it’s the tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?
I remember seeing this bumper sticker on a pickup truck years ago, and laughing. But I guess it’s not funny anymore. Neither is the sign, posted last summer on the Lubec waterfront, that said, “Working waterfront not for tourists.”
Tourists are critical to our economy, and it’s the job of each one of us to make them comfortable when they’re here. No more tourist jokes, stickers or signs, please.
Since Linda and I started our Travelin Maine(rs) weekly column in this newspaper three years ago, I’ve gotten more involved in tourism. Two weeks ago, the Governor’s Conference on Tourism drew over 400 interested parties to Bangor. The city’s new Cross Insurance Convention Center is very impressive and clearly a big economic driver for Bangor.
The first day got off to a great start for me with lunch at Geaghan’s Pub, with a glass of its own Smiling Irish Bastard beer and one of the best Reuben sandwiches I’ve ever had. The Pub is conveniently located across the street from the Cross Center, as is the Fireside Inn and Suites, my home that night and a place where Linda and I often stay when in the Bangor area.
Most of the tourism conference participants came from nonprofits, state agencies, media and advertising firms, and our larger enterprises such as the State Music Theater. Most tourism businesses are very small, with owners who don’t have the time to attend conferences. It was good, however, to see Lani Love-Cochran of Allagash Canoe Trips and Matt Polstein of the New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket, two businesses that depend on tourists.
While I probably should have had a nap after that big lunch at Geaghan’s, I wandered over to the Cross Center for a two-hour presentation by the Maine Woods Consortium, a group working to brand and market the best places in the North Woods. I’ve written about this effort before, and I’ve got to say progress has been slow. We’ve got a long way to go to increase tourism in the north country. We lost a lot of ground when deer hunters vanished along with the deer there.
An evening reception that night featured — boy, was I some pleased — Geaghan’s famous boneless buffalo wings and wine and beer from the Winterport Winery and its Penobscot Bay Brewery, and annual awards, including the Commitment to Community Award given to Reny’s.
Carolann Ouellette does a great job as tourism director, and her laser focus on the statistics of tourism always amazes me. You get a large dose of statistics at these conferences. Direct spending on tourism-related trips by overnight visitors to Maine totaled over $4.1 billion in 2013, for example. And how about this: More than 16.5 million visitors spent one or more nights in Maine on tourism-related trips in 2013. And Ouellette seems to know everything about every one of these visitors.
The Office of Tourism’s website, VisitMaine.com, is especially impressive, with some great videos telling stories about real Mainers. Turns out telling our stories is very important in attracting visitors. I was especially pleased to note a focus of promotion this year will be the Maine Beer Trail. I’m on that trail.
The second day of the conference featured some impressive speakers from away (I guess we can count them as tourists, too), but none was more impressive than our own Shannon Kinney of Dream Local Digital. Her advice about reaching tourists digitally was fascinating. This is a world of which I know nothing.
Throughout the conference, it was emphasized that individuals now wield the most power and influence over us as we plan our travel experiences. We look to our Facebook friends first for travel advice, apparently.
In the tourism office’s 2014 Marketing Plan, a detailed description of our “Leisure Target Audience” had a bit of a mistake. In the list of “Niche Audiences” was this: “Active Outdoors — with an emphasis on state/national parks.” We actually have only one national park and Gov. Paul LePage is strongly opposed to any more.
I’ve always been impressed with the tourism office’s annual and five-year goals. They’re very specific. In 2014, they call for increasing visitors staying in paid accommodations by 221,500, increasing total first-time visitation (day and overnight) to 2.9 million, and maintaining the likelihood to recommend Maine as a vacation destination at 92 percent for overnight and 95 percent for day visitors. That’s a very high level of satisfaction and ambitious goal.
And it definitely means no more tourist season bumper stickers.