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Maine's tourism industry is ready for summer

Last year was a good year for businesses, but workforce, diversity, and challenges remain.

PORTLAND, Maine — April showers bring a few things to Maine. May flowers for one, and June tourists, of course. 

Vacationland is a four-season destination, but summer is the peak for the state's tourism industry. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, or MOT, 68 percent of all out-of-state visitors come to the state in the summer.

Thursday was the full-day session of the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Westin Hotel in Portland. The series of speeches and breakout sessions focused on successes in 2021 and learning more about challenges that continue to face the industry.

"We do a lot of comparisons to 2019 because 2020, as we know, was kind of an anomaly," Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said.

Credit: NCM

Businesses bounced back last year after the pandemic summer of 2020. According to the MOT, 15.6 million visitors came to Maine, which generated a total economic impact of more than $14 billion in 2021 and supported more than 143,000 jobs.

Those numbers helped The Maine Oyster Trail find success when it launched last summer. More than 80 businesses work together to provide unique and authentic Maine experiences centered around oysters.

Afton Vigue, Jaclyn Robidoux, and the rest of The Maine Oyster Trail team were honored at the Conference Thursday, winning the Governor's Leadership and Growth award. 

Robidoux said you don't have to be the biggest fan of oysters to enjoy the trial, which is the largest of its kind in the country.

“It’s not just one singular experience. There’s a whole variety of ways to get out there," she said. “So it’s a really great way of discovering something new.”

The trail connects customers with businesses in the oyster business and helped those companies bounce back after a tough 2020.

“We really try to make something for everybody on the trail, and I think the collaboration really allows us to do that," Vigue said. “And who doesn’t love kicking back and relaxing at a fantastic Maine restaurant.”

Heather Johnson is the commissioner of Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development. Maine's Gross Domestic Product, a way to track economic growth, has grown the 11th fastest in the country over the past three years, she said.

Maine had the 41st fastest growing GDP in the country over the past 10 years, she added. 

“We’re seeing very diverse and innovative growth," she said. “Tourism is a great way to attract people to Maine."

Despite the success from last year and the expected busy season upcoming because of minimal COVID-19 restrictions and people from Canada returning across the border, industry leaders are focused on the challenges facing Maine tourism.

Credit: NCM

One issue that has faced the state for years is a workforce shortage, made worse during the pandemic. Johnson said new programs such as Maine Career Exploration will give opportunities for high school students to work in a number of industries. 

“The governor is really committed to workforce solutions that are systemic," Johnson said. “Once [the students] have a good work experience, it’s much easier to get the second one. We can create a professional network for them. They can test and try careers.”

Lyons said the MOT will dedicate the next few years to promote all areas of the state to tourists. The MOT worked with a marketing and research company to highlight the average visitor that visits Maine's beaches, mountains, midcoast, and other areas so businesses and nonprofits can adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.

Promoting Maine as a welcoming place for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, or disability is also something the MOT will work on, Lyons added.

“Trying to really talk to the Indigenous people in Maine, there’s ‘Black Owned Maine,’ there are a lot of these organizations that we would really like to get involved with and have conversations about how we can do this right," he said.

It won't be long now, Mainers. Tourists are coming back. 

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