Refining Tourism Focus

Posted May 14, 2009, at 6:31 p.m.

Fewer Americans will take vacations this summer, according to a recent poll, which means Maine will have to work that much harder to keep its largest industry healthy. The Maine Office of Tourism launched a new advertising campaign last week around the slogan “There’s More to Maine.” The campaign must be the beginning of a broader effort to grow the state’s stagnant population.

Part of the problem, says Pat Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, is that Maine is perceived in narrow terms: lighthouses, lobsters and moose. Hence, the slogan, “There’s More to Maine.” Those in tourism businesses in inland locations, such as the Moosehead Lake region, often are asked if it is difficult to get there, as if would-be visitors worry that roads turn to mud and drivers must ford rivers and fight off wolves to get to their hotels.

But in tourism, perception is a reality that must be confronted.

The campaign is aimed at those who are labeled prospects — those who never have been here, or who have not been here in several years. It will work to persuade those prospects that Maine has plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking and fishing; high-quality restaurants and inns; and exciting activities like sailing and whale-watching.

The core demographic, Ms. Eltman said, is those in the 43-47 age group, with children, who earn on average $75,000 annually. A second demographic group the campaign aims to lure are single, independent travelers who enjoy exploring new places. The tourism office also is investing, just as it did last year, in encouraging “stay-cations,” so Mainers will spend their time off in our beautiful, safe and diverse state.

A larger issue that the Department of Economic and Community Development is hoping to tackle is the branding of Maine. Ms. Eltman said she and DECD Commissioner John Richardson believe that “There’s More to Maine” could be a first step in achieving this. The branding effort could — and should — be tailored to persuade people to move to Maine. The state’s flat population is a big part of its economic challenges. Maine needs younger people moving here to raise families, start businesses, join the work force and get involved in communities.

Summer visitors often lament to us year-round residents, “I wish I could move here.” Of course, they can. An earlier campaign used the phrase “Maine — Worth a Visit, Worth a Lifetime.” Younger people may be attracted to Maine if they see that life here is not dull, and that there is no shortage of interesting, creative people working on their dreams; that outdoor activities like kayaking, hiking and cross-country skiing are often available minutes from work and home; that Maine is safe and family-friendly, and housing costs are lower than elsewhere in the Northeast. And that while wages are lower than in cites, many of us willingly trade that for a rich quality of life.

That’s the “more” to Maine we must trumpet.

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