With our state embarking on many needed reforms to help families and businesses prosper, our state’s most durable and sustaining industry — travel and tourism — remains committed to growth and continued investment for Mainers across the state.
It’s no secret Vacationland is a busy destination for domestic and international visitors. Whether tourists arrive here in the summer to explore our popular area beaches and nature preserves, or trek to our region’s outdoor recreational activities at nearby mountains, we are fortunate to welcome these visitors who stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and patronize local businesses.
The resulting investment from this visitor traffic is a dividend benefitting all households. In 2016, travel and tourism contributed more than $2.5 billion to Maine households, as the industry represents one in six jobs and accounts for $6 billion in direct expenditures throughout the state. Moreover, we saw year-over-year growth from 2015 to 2016, with total visitation growing nearly 6 percent and direct expenditures seeing double digit growth in lodging and recreation.
What does this mean? First of all, travelers want to come here. Bangor, for example, possesses geographic convenience for so many travelers. It is an easy drive to four spectacular regions: Aroostook County, Down East and Acadia National Park, the Maine highlands, and the midcoast. These regions offer great outdoor adventure, rich cultural experiences, culinary delights and scenic beauty. When Bangor is a home base for our out-of-state visitors, we put the entire state at their fingertips.
And how do we continue this trend? Believe it or not, Washington can actually help. “Travel facilitation” is a technical term for how best can we bring visitors to our region. Legislators in Congress and White House officials tinker with laws and regulations so the U.S. can continue to attract as many international visitors from other countries as possible. For Maine, this means it is easier for Americans to fly, take a train, or drive to any of our destinations.
As we know here in Maine, Bangor International Airport and Portland International Jetport serve as our main gateways to the state. In order to meet the demands of the expected increase in passenger volume to and from our state, our airport partners need revenue to reinvest in their infrastructure. Whether it is expanding new runways or completely revamping new security areas, investment in our airports increases capacity for new routes and flights, as well as provide a more seamless travel experience for visitors. All of this will lead to an essential boost to our area economies in the form of more visitors.
To help airports fund such projects, Congress is trying to help. Right now, efforts are underway in the U.S. Senate and House to lift the cap on the passenger facility charge, an airport user fee that directly funds federally approved projects at airports. The charge has been capped at $4.50 per flight segment for over a decade, leaving airports, such as Bangor International, unable to raise the funds for much needed infrastructure improvements. Raising the cap, even by just a few dollars, offers a simple, cost-effective way to finance airport projects, using funds paid only by those who use the airport. With the help of the charge, we will reduce congestion, enhance airline competition and improve the travel experience for our residents and visitors alike.
Our representatives in Congress have always had a reputation of putting Maine first, politics aside. Sen. Susan Collins, once again, is staying true to that pattern and using her position on the powerful transportation funding subcommittee to guarantee our travel industry, and thus our local economies, have the tools they need to thrive. With her continued support for travel friendly policies, visitors will flock to our great state. These efforts will ensure Maine remains a top destination for visitors across the country and abroad — no matter the season.
Chris Fogg is chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association.