AUGUSTA — The state’s 2015 tourism marketing plan unveiled Wednesday attempts to identify the tourism industry’s most valuable customers and to appeal to the values that motivate them when choosing vacation destinations.
The marketing plan, following a year in which the number of visitors increase by more than 10 percent, was presented to around 400 industry members at the annual Maine Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Augusta Civic Center.
A hope with the plan — and a goal of the tourism office’s five-year strategic plan released last year — is to increase the number of people visiting the state for the first time. People tend to come back once they visit, said Carolann Ouellette, director of tourism and film for the state, so it’s important to attract new visitors.
“We figure if we can get them here,” Ouellette said, “the industry does a great job of the experience, so we know that they’ll come back.”
Last year, there were more than 4 million first-time visitors to the state, an increase of 43.5 percent, according to the tourism office.
However, there is little expected increase in the percentage of first-time visitors from New England, a weakness and an area targeted for improvement in the five-year strategic plan. Some 4.7 million visitors hailed from the region, 96 percent repeat visitors.
Nationwide, spending on travel and tourism accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2014, growing at an annual rate of 4.5 percent, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data released Wednesday. However, tourism spending increased only 2.5 percent for all of 2014 compared with an increase of 3.6 percent in 2013.
Identifying the higher value customers was also a primary goal of the five-year strategic plan released last year. Now, with a better understanding of the industry’s most valuable visitors, the tourism office will try to reach those customers through its advertising campaigns set to run through spring and fall across a variety of mediums.
Instead of targeting customers using demographic or geographic focuses, the tourism office plans to target the identified segments that are defined by their lifestyles and values.
“When you’re looking at a destination, it needs to speak to you and how you live your life and what your values might be,” Ouellette told conference attendees.
Ouellette said her office is also encouraging people in the tourism industry to focus on telling stories in their marketing and advertising efforts to try to reach such customers. The conference’s keynote speaker, Jonah Sachs, discussed the importance of storytelling.
“This is about speaking to core personal beliefs,” Ouellette said, “and we’re seeing that more and more as a successful marketing tool in today’s kind of cluttered world.”
The state-commissioned market segmentation study, which surveyed travelers living in the eastern United States and Canada, found that the most valuable customers fit into three categories based on their lifestyles, values and media habits. The plan names the three groups balanced achievers, genuine originals and social sophisticates.
Balanced achievers, with an average household income of about $117,500, are family oriented, care about arts and culture, and want to check off their “must see and do” lists, according to the plan.
Genuine originals have higher average household incomes, about $131,000, and are looking for more authentic experiences while on vacation and seek more adventurous outdoor recreation.
Social sophisticates, with a slightly higher average household income of $133,000, are interested in luxury, want to be pampered while on vacation and care more about status and appearance.
In addition to Wednesday’s conference, Ouellette said the tourism office will share the marketing plan’s strategies at regular meetings with industry associations and at workshops and events with business owners in the industry. However, the office still needs to work on getting the information out to those in the industry in a digestible way, Ouellette said.
The state tourism office, which is part of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, is funded with 5 percent of the state’s meals and lodging tax revenue, she said. The office’s budget is typically around $9 million to $10 million, according to the spokesman for the department.
George Gervais, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, told attendees at the conference that he hoped sharing the strategies gave them fresh ideas and inspirations to help build their own businesses. The focus of the tourism office is to tell stories about Maine in a way that connects and engages potential visitors.
“Maine has a reputation as a bucket-list destination,” Gervais said, but it needs to build a pipeline for new visitors.
Another goal of the strategic plan is to grow off-season visitation by 1 percent each year. The state’s tourism industry, which supports 94,000 jobs, 14 percent of the employment in the state, according to the tourism office, is busiest from the Fourth of July through October.
“Our mission is to make Maine the premier four-season destination in New England,” Ouellette said, “and I think that four-season piece still provides us with a lot of opportunity.”
Paul Koenig — 621-5663