Dugal is president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association.
Tourism is undeniably one of the state’s largest industries. It’s $7.7 billion—yes, that’s billion, with a “b”— in direct and indirect economic impact, which puts it up there with health care and pulp, paper and wood products. Tourism is an economic engine that employs tens of thousands of people and pays hundreds in millions in taxes to the state’s general fund.
What most people don’t know is that the largest segment within tourism is retail. The amount of retail attributed to the tourism economy is slightly ahead of restaurants, which I guess would come as no surprise to those people who count New Brunswick license plates at the Bangor Mall or Massachusetts plates at the Kittery outlets.
Restaurant sales make up the largest share of revenue that meals and lodging taxes are collected against, with $2.25 billion in 2013. That was 2.8 percent more than in 2012. Lodging accounted for $765 million in sales in 2013 or a quarter of overall meals and lodging revenues. This year is on pace to eclipse both the $800 million mark in lodging receipts and the $3 billion mark for both meals and lodging combined for the first time ever.
It has been a slow steady climb since the Great Recession, but Maine hospitality businesses are starting to hit their stride once again. In the quest for new industries, like biotechnology or composites, we sometimes forget about the contributions made by this longtime pillar of the Maine economy, in both increasing gross revenues and payrolls and contributing to state’s tax coffers.
Tourism destinations find themselves all over Maine and The Working Waterfront covers a great portion of this tourism economy in coastal communities from Kittery to Eastport. In many coastal communities the largest property tax payer is a hospitality business, most notably a hotel. The tourism industry is a very labor intensive industry, not only for those employed in our establishments, but the countless farmers, fishermen, tradesmen and women and small business owners who support our burgeoning industry. None of these jobs can be easily exported or downsized as our physical plants are impossible to relocate.
Maine visitors come from many different locations and where they come from often differs from region to region. The state has eight defined tourism regions stretching from Aroostook County to the Maine Beaches region in York County. It would probably come as no surprise that most of Maine’s overnight visitors come from Massachusetts, but what may surprise you is the margin between it and its next closest demographic. Next on the list is the Canadian traveler and only a point or two behind. Ontario and Quebec lead the charge in Canadian visitation and quite frankly, without these visitors in the Great Recession, I shudder to think what the outcomes could have been in 2008 and 2009. New York, Maine and Connecticut round out the top five origination points for Maine overnight visitors.
Technology has certainly changed the face of the hospitality industry. More and more travelers research and book their accommodations on line and the growth in the mobile market (pads and phones) is enormous. Online booking sites like Travelocity, Orbitz and bedandbreakfast.com are a sizable part of the stream for booking vacations in Maine. User generated content sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp are used by a majority of travelers and diners to review potential travel or dining choices.
The island communities fare well from the travel and tourism industry, be it an overnight at the Island Inn or Monhegan House and a cold beverage at the Monhegan Brewing Company or a weekend stay at the Inn at Peaks Island. Whether it’s a boat ride and overnight at Nebo Lodge or dinner at SALT on Vinalhaven, you are contributing to the island economy and the overall betterment of our great state and its tourism businesses.