Tourism industry pushes for more information sharing, continuity between directors in five-year plan

Posted Jan. 30, 2013, at 6:56 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — In the first of a series of sessions to develop a five-year strategy for state tourism, industry boosters and those working in the tourism sector identified a handful of goals for the Maine Office of Tourism on Wednesday.

The planning session was part of the annual Governors Conference on Tourism, held this year at the Samoset Resort. The conference continues Thursday.

In a 90-minute, rapid-fire response process, the 75 or so participants identified a couple of dozen strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the Maine Office of Tourism and to the state’s tourism industry and promotion in general. Then facilitators from the consultant firm BVK narrowed the focus, getting participants to list the top goals for the office.

Among those were:

• Increase paid overnight visits by 5 percent.

• Identify new markets.

• Provide message points and templates for marketing to businesses that are consistent with the state’s marketing strategy.

• Research and educate those in the industry about trends and best practices.

• Hold an annual meeting with stakeholders to share data and other information.

Participants also agreed that the office should work to sustain continuity in effort as directors — who are appointed by the governor — change. Some also suggested reconsidering the state’s eight tourism zone designations with an eye to redrawing the boundary lines and renaming them to reflect the character of each.

Industry advocates speaking at the session repeatedly stressed the need for continuity. Over the last decade, the marketing focus has changed when a new consultant that plans advertising campaigns is hired. But they also stressed the need to recognize that what Portland, Bar Harbor and Presque Isle offer a visitor are vastly different, and that should remain part of any strategy.

The tourism office itself — which operates within the state Department of Economic and Community Development and is the smallest such office in the country — got high marks from the group. Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said the staff — led by tourism director C arolann Ouellette — was very efficient. Others noted that staffers were accessible, responsive to changes in the market and knowledgeable about the regions.

The Maine “brand” also got high marks, though participants said the state should dedicate more money to marketing for tourism. Dugal said the office budget is $9 million, and “we should be getting at least twice that.”

In the discussion of weaknesses, one speaker said people outside the state have outdated perceptions about Maine. Another speaker said the office should dedicate more resources to encouraging Mainers to vacation within the state.

Opportunities for growth include marketing for destination weddings, a growing business; meetings and conventions, particularly with new places that host them being built or improved in recent years; and touting the downtowns and rural assets “other than moose and lobster,” as one speaker put it.

Threats included the Legislature taking more of tourism tax revenue for other spending; changing weather patterns; and the cruise ship industry hurting coastal lodging and other businesses.

Two other planning sessions will follow, in the Portland area on March 19 and in the Bangor area on April 17; locations have not yet been identified. The tourism office also is gathering ideas submitted to mainetourismoffice@gmail.com.

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