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‘Originality’ is Maine’s new tourism calling card

Tom Groening | BDN
Tom Groening | BDN
Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, is interviewed by TV reporter Don Carrigan on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2013, at the Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

ROCKPORT, Maine — Most Mainers know a quirky, eccentric, marches-to-a-different-drummer character or two. Those qualities — in more of us than we might admit — now are being used to market Maine to tourists.

After researching the elements that connect tourists with a destination, the Maine Office of Tourism chose “originality” as the key theme in its marketing plan, now in full swing for 2013. The marketing campaign plan was released Thursday at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Samoset Resort.

Attendance and enthusiasm were strong at the conference, organizers said, probably because the 2012 season was good to most in the industry. The total number of visitors was up by almost 2.2 million people over 2011 to 27.9 million, the tourism office reported.

The current marketing strategy builds on past campaigns, such as the most recent “There’s More to Maine,” according to the plan released Thursday.

The branding, the plan says, must tie the state’s allure to a “core human value. … It needs to be something that is both personally relevant and taps into a latent craving in today’s world.”

The connection between what research found was the “essence of Maine” and potential and current visitors’ personal values, according to the plan, “was the critical and missing bulls-eye for the Maine brand. Based on research, we concluded that this key lynchpin for the brand is ‘originality.’ “

Marketing, then, should use images and words that evoke the “quintessential qualities of the Maine attitude — the quirky, unusual, one-of-a-kind, offbeat, original things found only in Maine.”

The plan continues with an approach begun last year in which “real” Mainers — farmers, guides, musicians, restaurant owners — are shown enjoying their work and play.

Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said in an interview Thursday after releasing the plan that research showed that spurring travelers to choose Maine meant answering, “Why is it emotionally a good place to go?”

The emotional connection, though probably not conscious, is key to luring visitors, she said. If a visit to Maine is successful for a visitor, Ouellette said, “it makes you feel better, like you’ve been refreshed.”

The lack of crowds, compared to other tourist destinations, is part of that experience. “There’s a lot of room for finding yourself,” she said.

Though originality is the theme, lobsters, lighthouses and blueberries still figure into the campaign.

“They’re still iconic,” Ouellette said. “They’re still what people think about Maine.”

Among the goals included in the 2013 plan are increasing the percentage of first-time overnight visitors. Maine has strong repeat visitation numbers, tourism officials say. Often, the Maine vacation is a multi-generational tradition. But drawing more first-time visitors has been a challenge, though if that number increases, the payoff will continue for years, officials say.

Some of the highlights of the plan include:

• In 2012, daytrippers accounted for $1.2 billion in direct expenditures.

• Canadian visitors were responsible for about one-third of all tourism related expenditures in Maine in 2012, spending over $500 million.

• Direct spending on tourism-related overnight trips totaled over $3.7 billion in 2012.

And to put the tourism sector in context of the state economy:

• Tourism supports 85,500 jobs, or about 13 percent of employment in Maine.

• If the money spent by all tourists in Maine were to drop by 15 percent, the average Maine household would see a tax increase of about $113 to maintain government services at current levels.

• A 10 percent increase in visitors to Maine would generate almost $498 million a year in direct expenditures.

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