Shoppers leave the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald)

A study released last week suggests that Freeport may be one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world this winter, alongside cities like Paris, London and Rome.

Freeport was ranked as seventh on the “Top 10 fastest growing destinations for Americans” by travel company Tripadvisor, and was the only U.S. destination listed. Data for the study was collected through an online survey of over 2,400 consumers in October across eight countries. Website traffic data from Tripadvisor’s platform was also used.

Freeport, which has a population of around 8,500, is known for its retail shopping and particularly the flagship L.L. Bean outlet in the heart of downtown.

“We’ve had an incredibly busy summer,” said Mary Davis, the president of the Freeport Economic Development Corporation. “What happened this summer was kind of an early echo of what we are seeing now in this report, that people still want to get out, they still want to get outside, they want to be in a beautiful little iconic place, and here we are.”

Davis said that she believes some of the major reasons to expect increased visitation this winter include travelers feeling more comfortable amid COVID-19 and Freeport’s general accessibility to outdoor recreation, an industry that has also drawn more people during the pandemic.

Freeport town officials have recently launched a revisioning effort to build local economic resiliency as the retail landscape changes. Going into the winter, Davis said, work on the revisioning project will continue, with a final report expected in spring 2022. The project looks to bring a community and experiential-based economy to Freeport, and according to Davis, a handful of activities aimed at drawing people are already scheduled for this winter.

“We want to be a retail shopping place, but we also want to be a fun place to do things,” Davis said.

According to Kelly Edwards, the executive director of the local tourism marketing nonprofit and information resource Visit Freeport, seeing the town listed next to popular European destinations was both a surprising and proud moment.

“I felt that it was a testament to how hard this community has worked to come through the pandemic, and also just a testament to the work that Visit Freeport has done to provide a robust marketing campaign throughout the year,” Edwards said.

Annual visitation on the Visit Freeport website may offer some indication as to how many people are planning trips to the area. According to Edwards, in 2020, the website saw about 368,400 visitors, and so far in 2021 that number stands just over 481,000. For comparison, in 2019 the website saw 597,890 visitors.

Kelleigh Dulany, the owner of the Brewster House Bed & Breakfast, said that summer 2021 was the busiest season since she took ownership in 2016, with occupancy numbers comparable to bed and breakfasts in Bar Harbor and Kennebunk.

Dulany, in part, attributes the increase in summer visitors to Maine being a “bucket list” destination that at times in the past took a backseat due to international travel. This summer, due to international COVID-19 travel restrictions combined with a pent-up demand for travel, more people finally decided to visit.

Looking ahead into the winter, Dulany said that weekends at the Brewster House are booked through December, although she hasn’t seen an increase in demand into January and February at this point.

“I’ll be excited if I see a real uptick,” Dulany said. “That report made me kind of scratch my head, and wonder, ‘okay, well maybe we will have more of a January than we’ve had in years past,’ I don’t know.”

As of Monday, no COVID-19 quarantine or testing protocol is required to visit Maine from other states. Regulations surrounding international travel into Maine vary depending on vaccination status, and can be found on the Maine CDC website.

When asked about the anticipated uptick in tourism, Maine Center For Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Robert Long said that getting yourself and your loved ones vaccinated continues to be the best way to be protected from COVID-19.

“As colder weather leads us to spend more time indoors, wearing masks at indoor public places, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowded indoor places are among the best ways to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection while enjoying the things that draw tourists to Maine,” Long wrote in an email.


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