Maine wants to shift its approach to the cruise ship industry to generate more economic benefit for the state, rather than just promote it as a cruise destination.

The change reflects a move by the Office of Tourism to grow the number of ships coming to Maine by coordinating the state’s marketing efforts and adding new products and excursions for cruise passengers. Previously, the focus had been to increase the number of ships making Maine a destination, but there was little attention paid toward enhancing visitors’ experience once here, or encouraging them to come to Maine again.

The effort comes at the same time some Down East towns are enacting moratoriums on cruise ship visits because of concerns that the vessels will spoil the quiet nature of their communities.

To better capitalize on the cruise industry’s interest in Maine, the state is recasting its cruise strategy through an administrative shakeup. Last month, the Maine Office of Tourism awarded a contract to manage cruise marketing, coordination and outreach to Soli DG, the company owned by Patrick Arnold that runs the International Marine Terminal in Portland. Soli DG is only the second company to manage Maine’s cruise marketing since CruiseMaine, an organization of port communities and businesses formed to promote the state to the cruise industry, was founded in 2002.

In a June letter to CruiseMaine members, the state commissioners of transportation and economic development said the Office of Tourism was taking over management of cruise promotion from the Maine Port Authority.

Dividing responsibility would allow the tourism office to focus on marketing and cross-promotion while the port authority can concentrate on developing cruise infrastructure and operations. The Department of Transportation will hire an in-house expert on cruise infrastructure to lead that effort, according to an agreement between the two agencies.

“Working together with a more robust CruiseMaine coalition, we believe we will all be able to better meet the needs of the continued growth of the cruise industry and educate the public about the economic benefits of the cruise industry in the state of Maine,” Commissioners David Bernhardt and George Gervais wrote.

Steve Lyons, acting director of the tourism office, was unavailable for an interview.

In 2014, when Maine hosted 393 ships, the cruise industry generated 755 jobs and $47 million in direct spending in Maine, according to the state’s most recent data.

Cruise visits to Maine have almost tripled since 2003, from 151 ships to 410 scheduled in 2017. Vessels docking in Maine ports include some of the largest in the cruise industry, capable of carrying up to 5,000 passengers.

The major destinations – Bar Harbor and Portland – are considering pier expansions to bring in bigger ships and more passengers.

But that has caused some communities on Mount Desert Island to push back on growing cruise traffic, concerned that ship visits will disrupt village character and damage the equipment of local fishermen. On Tuesday, residents of Southwest Harbor voted for a six-month ban on cruise traffic, following a similar ban enacted by Mount Desert residents in November. Tremont, on the west side of Mount Desert Island, is also considering a ban. None of those towns are scheduled for cruise ship visits this fall.

STRONGER FOCUS ON MARKETING

In its proposal, Soli said its goals were to increase vessel calls and cruise passenger days in Maine, convert cruise passengers into repeat tourists, and bring a unified presence for Maine in the cruise industry by creating a formal governance structure for CruiseMaine and consolidating cruise marketing for the state.

The company proposes creating more on-shore excursions cruise lines can sell to passengers, such as craft beer tours or authentic lobster bakes. Those kind of products are attractive money-makers for cruise lines and provide unique experiences that could draw visitors back for more visits, according to the company’s proposal.

Soli also proposes tie-ins with well-known Maine brands such as L.L. Bean and Wyman blueberries and collaboration with media companies like Down East magazine to attract passengers and improve their experience.

Soli DG, based in South Portland, was one of two bidders on the contract. The company proposed a $115,000 annual budget. The 2017 budget for CruiseMaine was $141,256, according to the Department of Transportation.

Arnold declined interview requests last week. He is negotiating a final one-year contract with the state, which can be renewed for up to four years.

Amy Powers, who helped found CruiseMaine and has run the organization for 15 years, did not bid on the new contract and her contract as executive director ended in July.

Powers has started her own firm, MaineCruisePro, to represent cruise companies in the state. In an interview, Powers said she has already contracted with Cruise Lines International Association, a global trade group.

“From my perspective, I am working directly for the industry now, and I couldn’t be happier,” Powers said.”The marketing aspect of cruise industry tourism, that is best left to the marketing experts, not really my forte.”

Soli DG has managed the International Marine Terminal in Portland since 2009 and worked with ports in the U.S., Canada and Panama. Arnold’s company has also promoted a relationship between Maine and Iceland and focuses on trans-Atlantic trade.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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