Maine tourism officials say the state is poised to match and likely surpass last year’s record-breaking tourist season, which produced more than $5.5 billion in revenue. This, following a summer that was short on rain and long on savings at the gas pump.
As the LePage administration prepares a new two-year budget, tourism groups are releasing a series of new ads detailing the industry’s broad effect on Maine’s economy.
The ads, sponsored by the Maine Tourism Association, feature Mainers from walks of life that might not normally be associated with tourism. They include educators, such as school superintendent Eileen King from the Boothbay Harbor region.
“Tourism impacts us in a variety of ways,” she says. “It offers a tremendous opportunity for our children to access good jobs. It provides relationships, connections to the outside world and I believe it just enriches the fabric of our community.”
The ads are aimed at Mainers in general and state lawmakers in particular, who will ultimately decide how much to spend promoting tourism in the state budget.
Chris Fogg, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, says the Maine Office of Tourism’s $13.6 million budget would be more like $25 million if he was calling the shots. The office has dedicated $8 million to tourism marketing, and Fogg says many Mainers underestimate the size of the return on that investment.
“The marketing that they’ve done in the office of tourism is working,” he says. “We’ve seen increases from around $533 million, which was contributed in 2014 to the general fund, to the $554 million that I talked about in 2015.”
And that’s just tax revenue. The bigger picture on the state’s overall economy is far more pervasive, according to Carolann Ouellette, the outgoing state director of the Maine Office of Tourism, who will leave her position after nearly six years to take a job with Maine Huts & Trails.
She says that while the figures won’t be available until early next year, 2016’s tourism revenue figures look as though they will surpass last year’s $5.65 billion in tourism spending.
“So we are on track to surpass it,” she says. “Right at the moment year over year increases for meals and lodging taxable sales combined are ahead through August by 7 percent.”
Ouellette says the department’s revenue goals are reflected in the agency’s strategic planning and through a new emphasis on attracting visitors to the state for the very first time through targeted social media campaigns and other marketing initiatives.
“The industry really wanted us to look at new markets and hence the segmentation study as to who’s our best target, and then we did a geographic analysis and where do we go next,” Ouellette says. “We had core markets that had been New England and Eastern Canada, so we expanded into the mid-Atlantic which has been very successful.”
Ouellette reports to Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais, who says in a world of rapidly changing marketing dynamics, it’s not always easy to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of a particular sales focus.
“It is hard to quantify, and as Carolann knows, early on when I landed in this position, I was pushing for every dollar spent in marketing needs to be measurable in some way,” he says. “Well it’s impossible, it’s been proven, to be able to do that with every single dollar you spend. Yeah, you try new things all the time.”
A year ago, a Portland Press Herald analysis of 2013 data suggested Maine was ranked sixth in the country for per capita spending on tourism, but only 21st in the country for what it got in return. Ouellette doesn’t dispute the findings, but she says a more complete picture is needed to develop a state-by-state comparison.
A complete assessment of the state’s 2016 tourism season will be offered early next year at the state’s annual tourism conference.