Dylan McKay and Vanessa Cremeans of Salt Lake City, Utah, take a selfie from Dyer Point with Cape Elizabeth Light in the background in 2021. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Efforts to promote Portland as a vacation spot desperately need more funds if it’s to compete for visitors year-round, consultants say – and they’re hoping hotel guests will foot the bill.

Visit Portland, the destination marketing organization for Greater Portland, wants to create a tourism development district, which would charge a guest fee at hotels throughout the city. The fees would primarily go to Visit Portland and more than double the agency’s current annual budget, according to Executive Director Lynn Tillotson.

At hotels with 40 or more rooms, the district would charge about 1.5% of a guest’s bill.

For the guest, the additional charge might not seem substantial – under $2.50 for the average $163 room rate. But Visit Portland estimates that across the city’s roughly two dozen qualifying hotels, that fee could bring in nearly $2 million a year.

Most of the money would support Visit Portland’s efforts to promote the city as a must-see destination at any time of year, not merely the popular summer months. About 10% of the funds would go to city coffers for administrative costs and improvement projects that could help spur tourism.

“Tourism is not a situation of, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” Tillotson said. “You have to market your destination.”


Visit Portland says it’s doing what it can with a member-funded budget of just under $1 million but is falling behind competitors.

The tourism agency that markets Asheville, North Carolina – a city similar in size to Portland – has a $20 million budget, funded through a room occupancy tax.

In Providence, Rhode Island, a similar tourism agency has a $4.1 million budget. In Spokane, Washington, it’s $6.5 million.

Tillotson said Visit Portland’s current marketing is only a “drop in the bucket” of what it would like to do. The annual boost of $1.8 million – only expected to increase as more hotels pop up across the city – would go a long way.

“Whether we like it or not, tourism is still Maine’s No. 1 economy,” she said. “COVID showed us that 68,000 people cannot support it.”

Despite forcing them, in effect, to raise rates, hoteliers have supported the creation of a district, saying it would help them retain employees.


“Here is an incredible need to market the traditional tourism season and expand that reach into the shoulder season – leveling out visitation throughout the year,” Lucas Laidlaw, regional director of operations for Davidson Hospitality Group, told the Portland City Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee last week. “This would allow us to maintain staff year-round rather than be forced to lay off and gear up again each spring.”

Peter Twachtman, CEO of Lark Hotels, told committee members that a tourism development district is a way to fund Visit Portland without the burden falling on people still trying to rebuild their businesses. The district would pass the responsibility onto the guest rather than the taxpayers.

“Competition for visitor dollars is fierce, and the funding to attract those dollars is limited and getting smaller by the moment,” he said.

About 5.6 million people visited Greater Portland in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.


Boosting Portland’s tourism could play a key role in attracting more long-term residents and businesses.


Matthew Nolan, general manager of Residence Inn Portland Downtown, said Portland faces competition from other cities that are just as attractive, with similar costs and opportunities for economic growth. Among the competitors he cited are Providence and the New Hampshire cities of Manchester and Portsmouth.

Keeping Portland “on top of all the travel guides” is crucial to drawing real estate developers, investors and business owners who want to put down roots in Portland.

The Cambria Hotel and other lodgings in Portland would charge guests a tourism development district fee under a proposal by Visit Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Gerard Kiladjian, CEO of hotel management and consulting group Principal Hospitality, said the state’s economic growth is driven by tourism in multiple ways.

“The decision to move a business to Maine or to relocate to Maine always starts with a vacation in Maine,” he said.

Taxes paid by large businesses in the city are a huge part of its budget, Tillotson said. “And those businesses choose to be here because the city is so vibrant.”

Nationwide, there are over 200 of tourism development districts, including ones in Boston and Newport, Rhode Island. Cape Cod is considering one, Tillotson said. This would be the first in Maine, although Visit Portland has previously floated the idea.


Cary Tyson, executive director of business advocacy group Portland Downtown, said many of the cities with such districts are actually less focused on tourism than Portland is.

It only makes sense to “add fuel to the fire that is the tourism engine in our state,” he said.

Tyson, who is also on the Visit Portland board, said there are ample opportunities to follow the lead of places like Quebec and market the city as a winter destination.

“Maine in the summer just works, it kind of takes care of itself,” he said. “The fall is also a popular time. But winter and spring need a little boost.

“It can only help to get the word out more strategically,” he added. “We’re Vacationland. That’s our bread and butter, so we have to share the good word.”

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