Guides say Portland’s tour wars good for business

Posted June 01, 2013, at 12:28 p.m.
A woman snaps a pictures of Portland's observatory atop Munjoy Hill Friday while on a guided tour atop a 1971 fire truck. The Portland Fire Engine Co. offers tours of the city daily.
A woman snaps a pictures of Portland's observatory atop Munjoy Hill Friday while on a guided tour atop a 1971 fire truck. The Portland Fire Engine Co. offers tours of the city daily. Buy Photo
Keith Nuki runs the Portland Fire Engine Co., which offers guided tours of the city atop a 1971 fire truck.
Keith Nuki runs the Portland Fire Engine Co., which offers guided tours of the city atop a 1971 fire truck. Buy Photo
Tim Lambert points out the Portland Observatory on Munjoy Hill Friday while showing tourists, aboard a 1971 fire truck, a photo of what the hill looked like more than a hundred years ago. Lambert works for the Portland Fire Engine Co.
Tim Lambert points out the Portland Observatory on Munjoy Hill Friday while showing tourists, aboard a 1971 fire truck, a photo of what the hill looked like more than a hundred years ago. Lambert works for the Portland Fire Engine Co. Buy Photo
Tour guide Tim Lambert helps passengers off a fire truck on Commercial Street in Portland Friday afternoon. The truck is used by the Portland Fire Engine Co. to give tours of the city.
Tour guide Tim Lambert helps passengers off a fire truck on Commercial Street in Portland Friday afternoon. The truck is used by the Portland Fire Engine Co. to give tours of the city. Buy Photo
Capt. Joe Stanley (left) and tour guide Derek Meader operate Downeast Duck Adventures, a tour service that boasts Maine's only amphibious duck boat.
Capt. Joe Stanley (left) and tour guide Derek Meader operate Downeast Duck Adventures, a tour service that boasts Maine's only amphibious duck boat. Buy Photo
Tour guide Derek Meader points out the sights while narrating the Casco Bay portion of the amphibious Downeast Duck tour around Portland Thursday afternoon.
Tour guide Derek Meader points out the sights while narrating the Casco Bay portion of the amphibious Downeast Duck tour around Portland Thursday afternoon. Buy Photo
Capt. Joe Stanley drives the amphibious Downeast Duck tour Thursday afternoon off the East End Beach in Portland.
Capt. Joe Stanley drives the amphibious Downeast Duck tour Thursday afternoon off the East End Beach in Portland. Buy Photo
Tour guide Derek Meader points out the sights while narrating the Casco Bay portion of the amphibious Downeast Duck tour around Portland Thursday afternoon.
Tour guide Derek Meader points out the sights while narrating the Casco Bay portion of the amphibious Downeast Duck tour around Portland Thursday afternoon. Buy Photo
Tour guide Derek Meader points out the sights while narrating the Casco Bay portion of the amphibious Downeast Duck tour around Portland Thursday afternoon.
Tour guide Derek Meader points out the sights while narrating the Casco Bay portion of the amphibious Downeast Duck tour around Portland Thursday afternoon. Buy Photo
Pamela Laskey, of Portland Foodie Tours, stands with Heidi Stanvic in Vervacious, Stanvick's travel-inspired fancy food shop on Commercial Street in Portland. The shop is one of the stops on the tour.
Pamela Laskey, of Portland Foodie Tours, stands with Heidi Stanvic in Vervacious, Stanvick's travel-inspired fancy food shop on Commercial Street in Portland. The shop is one of the stops on the tour. Buy Photo

Downeast Duck Adventures

This hourlong tour on Maine’s only amphibious duck boat takes visitors past the historic buildings and statues of Portland and into Casco Bay.

Website: www.downeastducktours.com

Times: 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., departing from 94 Commercial St.

Prices: Free for children ages 3 and younger, $19 for children age 4-15, $23 for seniors, $25 for adults

Portland Fire Engine Co. Tours

Tours offered atop a 1971 firetruck retrofitted with a multimedia display scene to show historic images of how the city, which was leveled four times by conflagrations, looked at different times in the past.

Website: www.portlandfiretours.com

Times: 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., departing from 180 Commercial St.

Prices: $10 for kids ages 10 and younger, $15 for adults

Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours

This company offers an array of tours, from a street-by-street 105-minute trolley tour to a narrated Lighthouse Lovers Cruise in Casco Bay to a selection of half-on-land/half-at-sea packages that combine the two.

Website: www.portlanddiscovery.com

Times: Departure times vary depending on the tour.

Prices: Prices range from $10 for children (3-12) on the 45-minute trolley Peek At Portland tour up to $49 for adults on the Culinary Delights trolley tour. Most tour prices are between $16-$22 per person.

Maine Foodie Tours

These tours, mostly by foot, take visitors to the spots that made Portland Bon Appetit magazine’s Foodiest Small Town in America. In addition to the main Culinary Walking Tour, the outfit offers a Pub Crawl tour, Desserts First tour, and partners with Portland Discovery for trolley and island cruise options. Maine Foodie Tours can also be found in Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor.

Website: www.mainefoodietours.com

Times: Departure times vary depending on the tour.

Prices: In Portland, prices typically range from $45 to $49, but include food.

Maine Beer Tours

From the tour website: “Maine Beer Tours will give craft beer lovers from New England, and beyond, the opportunity to learn about the brewing process, taste some of the best beers in the Northeast, and learn about the Maine brewing industry.” The all-day tour goes by van, so tourists don’t have to drive themselves or even walk.

Website: www.mainebeertours.com

Times: 10:45 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, departing from 180 Commercial St.

Prices: $54 per person.

The Maine Brew Bus

A biodiesel fueled bus that seats 14 and brings visitors to a range of Maine’s breweries. Tour options include the “York County Bounty,” “Casco Fiasco” and the “Beast of the Yeast” tours.

Website: www.themainebrewbus.com

Times: Departure times vary depending on the tour.

Prices: Prices vary from $39 per person for “Sunday Funday Field Trips” to $75 per head for three other tours, including the Friday afternoon “Local Pour Tours.”

Wicked Walking Tours

Billed as “Ghost Tours of Haunted Portland,” the half-mile stroll features pirates, witches, and the history of Portland from a supernatural perspective.

Website: www.wickedwalkingtours.com

Times: On select dates starting at 8 p.m. at Bell Buoy Park on Commercial Street.

Prices: $11 for children, $13 for seniors, $16 for adults.

The Scenic Route Maine Tours

Tours of the city and nearby Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth lasting one hour and 45 minutes from a 15-passenger, air-conditioned van — the company also offers tours to Kennebunkport and shuttles to Freeport.

Website: www.thescenicroutemainetours.com

Times: For Portland tours through Sept. 30, 9:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., departing from 177 Commercial St. (Times change in October and November)

Prices: For Portland tours, $27 per person

Information about additional self-guided tours and Portland-based sea cruises, including whale watching trips and lobster boat excursions, can be found in the Portland’s Downtown District directory by clicking here, or by following the links at www.portlandmaine.com.

PORTLAND, Maine — Want to catch lobsters? Dine in the city’s trendy eateries? Be scared by ghost stories?

This spring there are more specialty tours to show visitors around Maine’s largest city than ever before. But instead of spreading the tourism dollars too thin, the eclectic array of choices means more business for everyone.

“Are they detracting from one another? I think they actually encourage people to take more tours,” said Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are upward of 7 million people who come into this region [annually], so I think we’ve got enough [tourists] to sustain them for sure.”

Keith Nuki, who operates Portland Fire Engine Co. Tours out of a 1971 firetruck retrofitted with a multimedia display screen to show historic images of the city, agrees.

“Portland has really come into its own over the last two or three years,” Nuki said. “I’m the kind of philosopher that says if you build a McDonald’s, people will come, and if you build another burger joint next door, both places will do well. The more great things to do in downtown Portland, the better.”

When Pamela Laskey moved to Portland from Boston in 2008 and began considering opening her own tour business, she said she tried to avoid niches already carved out by tour companies in the city.

She discovered her corner of the market after her new neighbors welcomed her to town with treks to their favorite local baker, chocolatier and cheese purveyor. In 2009, Bon Appetit magazine named Portland “America’s Foodiest Small Town” and Laskey, a former Northeastern University faculty member, launched her first full season of Maine Foodie Tours.

“When I came into this market I did a lot of research about all of the great tours already here,” she said. “I didn’t want to compete with them. … I went around to everybody else’s tour and made a script that would be unique. I didn’t want to step on anybody else’s toes.”

In Portland, tour operators focus on their specialties and are happy to steer customers to other tours, said Laskey. Even with mounting competition for tourists’ time, and dollars, Laskey has done well enough to add new tours. A pub crawl, desserts first, and trolley tour roll out this summer.

Tourism officials say the market is not oversaturated, yet.

“If you have four foodie tours in one city? That may be too many. If you had four trolley tours in one city? That may be too many. But we have one foodie, one trolley, one ghost tour. They’ve all really found their niche,” Whitten said. “I do think that tourists will take advantage of these kinds of things. I don’t think there’s too many.”

At least one exception to that rule is the city’s growing beer tours — the Maine Brew Bus and Maine Beer Tours in addition to Laskey’s pub crawl.

Derek Meader — a tour guide with Capt. Joe Stanley’s Downeast Duck Adventures, Maine’s only amphibious duck boat — said with Portland’s growing cruise ship business, his tours stay full deeper into the fall than ever before.

“We’ve got tour boats and whale boats and trolleys — I think the more folks we have here doing different things, the more people we’ll bring in,” Stanley said.

While no official master list of tours has been published, Portland’s Downtown District lists nearly 30, ranging from self-guided tours to Casco Bay cruises to narrated rides around Portland’s historic streets.

Merchants aren’t complaining.

Local stores, entertainment venues and attractions benefit from the explosion in specialty tours, Whitten said. They give visitors ideas about where to shop and places to explore.

“We get so much great feedback from the tours,” said Heidi Stanwick, co-owner of Commercial Street spice and condiment shop Vervacious, the first stop on Laskey’s foodie tour. “It allows us to tell our story to people who wouldn’t necessarily have heard it otherwise.”

Dr. Norma Asprec of New York City said after finishing a Thursday afternoon duck tour, which rolled past the historic buildings and statues of Congress Street before turning toward the East End and splashing into Casco Bay, she was ready to explore the spots first hand.

“It’s a beautiful way to see the town,” said Asprec.

“I think a lot of the tourists are looking for something unique to do nowadays,” said Nuki of the Portland Fire Engine Co. tours. “With all the different tours here now, they can find almost anything in Portland.”

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