New England sees tourism potential in overseas visitors

Posted April 02, 2011, at 12:32 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2011, at 5:57 p.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — New England’s tourism industry is looking to attract more overseas visitors by emphasizing a variety of recreational activities, from sailing trips to bed-and-breakfast bike routes.  

More than 1.6 million visitors from overseas — not including Canada and Mexico — came to New England in 2009, a slight decrease from the year before because of the global economy. But projections indicate a growth in overseas visitors through at least 2015, according to Discover New England, a marketing alliance for the six-state region that’s holding its annual tourism summit Monday.  

“Initially, we just saw people from the United Kingdom, Germany and France,” said Don Haggett, director of sales for the Lafayette Hotels, which has properties in Maine and New Hampshire. “Now, they’re coming from all over Europe.”  

The region also is seeing more visits from families, in addition to couples. Good shopping values, cheaper gasoline — it still costs less in the U.S. even with the rising prices — and the ability to see a variety of attractions in a relatively small area are some of the draws, tourism officials say.    

“It’s like an educational vacation for children coming here,” said Sue Norrington-Davies, managing director for Discover New England, based in Portsmouth, N.H. They can see living history museums, historical sites, beaches and the countryside, she said. “They’re having fun and they’re learning at the same time.”  

While some sites naturally draw tourists from Europe, such as Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont, state tourism divisions and industry groups are looking to promote more specialized activities, such as windjammer cruises off the coast of Maine and Rhode Island and special-themed self-led tours of movie sites, breweries and attractions along old Route 3 in New Hampshire.  

Julie Katz, who co-owns TourMappers, a Boston-based company that packages itineraries for overseas markets, said it’s offering for a second year a New Hampshire program where travelers can bicycle from one bed and breakfast to another. She said customers from the United Kingdom have been booking the tour. She hopes to offer something similar in Vermont.

Katz said she also is trying to highlight Motorcycle Week in Laconia, N.H., in June, one of several big motorcycle rallies across the country. It has drawn between 300,000 and 400,000 people in past years.  

“They come over for rallies all the time. They want to bike Route 66,” Katz said of some motorcyclists from overseas. “We have so much in New England; Route 66 is boring for many stretches” elsewhere in the country, she said.  

Each state contributes $100,000 annually to Discover New England, which has staff representing them overseas at consumer and travel trade shows. Staffers work up news releases on New England attractions that are distributed to tourism groups and media overseas. Discover New England staffers also help arrange trips for reporters and tour operators to New England so when they return home, they can write about them.

In addition to those contributions, most of the states have some money in their tourism budgets for additional promotional efforts overseas. New Hampshire, for example, contributes $90,000 toward marketing partnerships and brochures. It also has partnered with Maine and Vermont to market state attractions in France.

Lori Harnois, director of New Hampshire’s Division of Travel and Tourism Development, says the three-day summit at the Omni Mount Washington Resort is projected to have an economic impact of $1.2 million in direct spending in the state.  

Massachusetts set aside $725,000 for fiscal year 2011 — the amount has been as high as $2.5 million in the past — for research and consumer promotions overseas. It has increased its investment in advertising and promotions in Canada — still a top market for New England.  

Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, said international visitors generate $1.9 billion in direct spending in the state. Massachusetts ranks sixth in the U.S. for overseas travelers, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.  

“Our goal overall is to return to pre-9-11 numbers,” she said. “International tourism to the United States has never recovered. Massachusetts is now back to where we were prerecession.”  

Monday’s summit is expected to draw nearly 80 international tour operators and 300 representatives from New England hotels and attractions.  

Marketing staff meet with tour operators for a series of quick interviews. “It’s kind of like speed dating,” said Laurel Williams, marketing director for Discover New England. “They sit down  with eight minutes with a tour operator and get to introduce themselves and show them photos of the property. Hopefully, that will lead to a contract. Then they go on to the next one.”

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