By Laurie Schreiber
To date, 2018 has been a generally strong tourist year, up from 2017 and continuing a positive trend of the past decade.
“In a recent survey of our members, 86 percent said it was better than last year or at least as good, and last year was good as well,” said Maine Tourism Association CEO Chris Fogg. “So we’re optimistic about the numbers.”
Since 2008, Maine tourism in general has seen positive growth, he said. Factors include repeat visitation and the state’s reputation for outdoor activities, relaxation, and authenticity.
“People looking for authentic experiences want to come to meet the locals, and taste local food and craft beer,” Fogg said. “One of our great assets is people. Their stories resonate with visitors.”
Maine Office of Tourism’s communications director Jennifer Geiger agreed.
“We have heard from Maine’s tourism industry organizations that the summer 2018 season was going well, with strong bookings for lodging and campgrounds,” Geiger emailed. “According to the Maine Campground Owners Association, their members have been very busy with reservations and full campgrounds during the summer.”
At the Bar Harbor Inn, General Manager Jeremy Dougherty said guest numbers were up this summer. The inn, which closes for the season at Thanksgiving, continued in the autumn to have strong numbers due to Acadia National Park tourism and cruise ships, he said.
Acadia visitation increased from 3.3 million in 2016 to 3.5 million 2017. In 2008, Acadia visitors numbered 2 million. Cruise ship numbers have been rising, too. The number of cruise ships scheduled for a Bar Harbor stop in 2018 was 180, 14 more than 2017.
Massachusetts is the Bar Harbor Inn’s No. 1 market during the summer, Dougherty said. In the fall, the inn tends to see more guests from Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. Leaf-peeping brings folks to the area.
“If they see a nice patch of weather, they’ll drive down,” he said.
Many guests are repeats.
“We have a large database of guests who stay year after year,” Doughtery said. “The night before they check out, they book for the next year. And they have a lot of close relationships with a lot of our staff.”
In Boothbay Harbor, Linekin Bay Resort also saw an uptick, said Erin Stodder, vice president of marketing. In 2016, new owners started renovations expected to grow the clientele, whose core is multi-generation families.
“Keep in mind that this only our third season of ownership,” she said. “We continue to have renovations in the works for the next three to four years. With every year, we feel like the benefit to the property is enormous.”
With its legacy core, the resort also has a strong marketing initiative to reach new customers for the resort’s all-inclusive package of activities and dining, and its bed-and-breakfast option.
“For some visitors, Boothbay Harbor is a last-minute stopover on their way to Bar Harbor,” she said.
Eastport tourism is not where it could be, said Kilby House Inn Bed & Breakfast owner Greg Noyes.
“The summer was very erratic,” he said. “It’s not going to be a banner year here.”
Noyes attributed that to several factors that included the 2014 discontinuance of ferry service to Eastport from Deer Island, New Brunswick; the 2014 collapse of the city-owned breakwater used by recreational, commercial, government, and tour boats; and inconsistent downtown restaurant and shop hours.
“Eastport is a neat sidewalk town and it could attract a lot of people,” he said. While Lubec has natural attractions like Campobello and Quoddy Head State Park, Eastport has to work harder to draw tourists, he said.
“People aren’t looking at tourism seriously here,” he said. “People get two or three weeks of vacation, and it has to count.”
Maine Office of Tourism 2017 data
• Tourism averaged over 5 percent growth annually since 2012.
• An estimated 36.7 million U.S. and Canada tourists visited Maine in 2017, a 2.5 percent increase over 2016.
• Visitation grew in all seasons: Compared with 2016, summer visits increased 4.5 percent, fall 3.5 percent, winter nearly 11 percent.
MOT’s 2018 summer season analysis is expected by late October.
New HospitalityMaine leverages innkeeper, restaurant sectors
The new organization HospitalityMaine will be announced at the second annual Maine Hospitality Summit, Oct. 29-30 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
As originally reported in Mainebiz,HospitalityMaine merges the Maine Innkeepers and Maine Restaurant associations. The merger is designed to provide a stronger voice for creating policy and addressing challenges.
A key initiative will be the creation of an apprenticeship program as a new approach to source employees.
Maine’s hospitality sector has had nine straight years of annual record growth since the great recession and is expected to set a new record for 2018. According to Maine Revenue Services, taxable retail sales for restaurants and hotels went from $2.5 billion in 2009 to $3.8 billion in 2017. The multiplier effect is billions more.