European Connection

Posted Feb. 05, 2010, at 6:30 p.m.

Maine innkeepers would be wise to include some tea bags with the in-room coffee machines. That’s the advice from Sue Norrington-Davies, of Discover New England, a nonprofit tourism booster group that focuses exclusively on cultivating visitors from the United Kingdom and Germany. It’s a sizable market, and despite the recession, it’s poised to grow. Maine’s tourism industry — the state’s largest — must make the most of this niche.

Norrington-Davies spoke at the state’s annual Governor’s Tourism Conference on Tuesday, and told those working in Maine’s tourism businesses that European travelers love New England. After a flat year in 2009, a 3 percent rebound is expected this year, she said. “It was growing pretty well,” Norrington-Davies said, before the recession.

The U.S. saw 58 million international visitors in 2008, excluding those from Canada and Mexico, with about 1.6 million visiting New England. International travel to the U.S. saw 10 percent growth in 2007 over the previous year, and 17 percent in 2008. By 2013, as many as 63 million may visit the U.S., so Norrington-Davies and others are working to bring as many of those as possible to New England.

“They are a market to be reckoned with,” she said.

Tourists from the U.K. and Germany typically fly into Boston, then are eager to explore the region, Norrington-Davies said. The average stay is about two weeks, and they tend to visit more than one state.

“They love the coast of Maine,” she said.

In Maine, the attractions for those visitors are outdoor activities, shopping in places like Kittery and Freeport, the beaches, gourmet dining, Acadia National Park and whale watching.

In part because the exchange rate is in their favor, and in part because those crossing the Atlantic tend to be high-end travelers, U.K. and German tourists spend significant money while visiting. “The value here is just exceptional,” Norrington-Davies said, especially from a European perspective where gasoline is three times as costly.

So what can Maine innkeepers do to ensure good word of mouth among tour operators and visitors from the U.K. and Germany? Put tea in the rooms, along with the coffee makers. Better yet, serve tea in the afternoon. And also stock the rooms with hair dryers, Europeans won’t bring their own, which are set for a different voltage, and AC adapters. If possible, train front desk staff to speak some German, she said. Providing wireless Internet, TV with international news such as CNN is also a good idea.

Norrington-Davies urges those interested in luring more of the European market to Maine to attend the 15th annual Discover New England Annual Tourism Summit and International Marketplace in Newport, R.I., April 19-21.

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