LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — Between the endless rain and the dreary economy, the summer of 2009 was nothing to write home about for many of the business owners who help the state’s mighty tourism machine to operate smoothly.
But 2010 was a tourist season of a different color, or maybe two of them: blue for the longed-for clear skies above and green for the return of some much-needed tourist dollars to the Pine Tree State.
“It was a good season. Occupancy was up,” said Daina Hill, the owner of the Inn at Sunrise Point in Lincolnville. “I’m quite optimistic, actually. I was more worried at the end of last year than this year.”
Her experience is borne out by the numbers, said Pat Eltman of the Maine Office of Tourism.
About 23.2 million people came to Maine last summer, which is a 14 percent increase from 2009 in overnight visits and a 9 percent increase in day visitors.
According to the Maine Turnpike Authority, there was more traffic on both northbound and southbound lanes in July, August and September than in 2009.
“We really saw an increase, and we’re just thrilled about that,” Eltman said Sunday. “This good weather is just extending the season. So far, so good — and everybody’s happy.”
Many of the restaurateurs, tour guides, hoteliers and others who depend on tourists and managed to hang on after 2009 are now paying off their bills, she said.
“I think people are feeling a little better about the economy,” Eltman said.
Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, said some global trends may have worked in Maine’s favor. With a dollar that hasn’t been as strong against European currencies, more foreign tourists may see the state as being a good value, he said.
“It makes it more enticing for people to visit us,” Bookham said. “Our gain is Paris’ loss, if you will.”
The growing slate of spring, summer and fall festivals — including such successful newbies as the Free Range Music Festival in Belfast — have meant that tourists have ample opportunities for fun things to do in Maine, Bookham said.
“I don’t know if it was the sunshine or a national determination just to make the best of it,” he said. “Even in a shaky economy, people were having a bit of, perhaps, recession fatigue. That really came through in the numbers.”
Visitors to the Chamber’s website tend to come from Maine’s traditional market: other New England states, New York state and Ohio, among other areas, he said.
Hill noticed that many of her guests came from the same places.
“I noted a bit of a shift for us,” she said. “There were more people coming from the Boston-New York corridor, in driving distance.”
Bookham also noted the continued trend of having other Mainers come to the midcoast on day trips.
“Day trip travel — the numbers mean the same,” Bookham said. “It’s money coming into the community from the outside.”
Another sector that has been strong for Maine is the discerning but hungry “foodie” tourist, according to Eltman.
“We’re like a foodie capital of the world now,” she said. “We’re a culinary destination. That helps a lot.”
The wonderful weather also seemed to be a boon for schooner captains and Main Street storekeepers alike, Bookham said.
“The general feeling was huge. Bar Harbor was just gangbusters,” he said, noting the crowds on the streets even in November. “It’s still pretty darn nice and busy here. There’s people walking up and down in the sunshine outside. It never stops.”