CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Spring was certainly in the air for some Mainers Wednesday, and many small businesses are already gearing up for an expected busy summer season.
More than 11 million tourists spent at least one night in Maine last year according to the Governor's Conference on Tourism Report unveiled Tuesday. According to the report, out-of-state visitors spent more than $8.6B in Vacationland last year alone, saving every household more than $2,000 in state and local taxes.
Tourism leaders also released their updated Destination Management Plan at the in-person conference in Bangor Tuesday.
A focus for 2023 is the preservation and sustainability of Maine's environment and the industry itself.
"The people that do come [here], they understand the ethos in Maine, they understand what we’re trying to accomplish here, the stewardship principals that we’re following here in the state," Steve Lyons, the director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said Wednesday.
The Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth has been working on sustainable practices for more than two decades. Rauni Kew has been the Green Program Manager at the Inn for 21 years.
"We try to do programming that really connects [guests] to our environmental message," she said. "It’s a huge opportunity for all of us in Maine with this beautiful natural environment to create programs for guests to see what you’re doing to re-wild or regenerate."
The Inn has plenty of eco-friendly features around the property that guests may not be aware of, but Kew added there are programs like habitat restoration for guests to engage in.
"[Guests are] saying they really want to be inspired by what travel and tourism is doing to preserve and protect," Kew said.
Maine's natural resources are the "magnet" that brings tourists to the state, Kew added, so the preservation of our beaches, lakes, and rivers will not only help the environment but also the industry.
Lyons added another way to become more sustainable as a state and industry is to promote other communities in Maine as tourist destinations.
That will help elevate the stress and transportation issues in popular areas like Bar Harbor, and help boost other local economies.
Despite the state experiencing a 1.5 percent total visitation decrease in 2022 compared to 2021, Lyons said that statistic isn't a key indicator of industry success anymore.
What matters now, is tracking how many nights tourists stay when they do visit Maine, according to Lyons.
"They’re staying longer and spending more money while they’re here," he added. "When those businesses are successful, it helps the state of Maine."
While the overall report from 2022 is promising, staffing shortages will still be a factor for some communities and businesses. Lyons said assistance from the federal government could be on the way to help that issue.
At the Inn by the Sea, Managing Director Michael Briggs said hospitality businesses need to get creative to retain workers. Briggs added he prioritizes his staff's mental health and wants them to care about themselves and each other after a busy workday.
"We’ll onboard close to 50-60 seasonal employees [from now] until June so it’s best to get that mindset in play now," he added.
As the state prepares for another busy tourism season, we'll just need to wait for Mother Nature to bring us that summer weather.