MILLINOCKET – As tourist destinations go, they all just roll together right off the tongue: Kailua, on the island of Oahu. Macon, Georgia. Vail, Colorado. Millinocket, Maine. Eureka, California.
Yeah, you read that right.
The Magic City is ranked 6th among the Top 10 Hot U.S. Travel Destinations for 2007 by the travel Web site TripAdvisor.com. It beat out larger and better-known tourist havens such as Vail, Eureka, and Franklin, Tenn., an area steeped in Civil War history and home to many well-preserved antebellum and Victorian-era structures.
It was the only Maine or New England locale to make the list.
The Top-10 ranking, which was the site’s first such forecast, doesn’t mean that Millinocket draws as much traffic on the site as Paris, London, New York City, Orlando or even Bangor. Millinocket was listed because the number of site visitors searching for the town, writing reviews of town destinations and conducting other site business has dramatically increased over the last quarter, said Brooke N. Ferencsik, site spokesman.
“It is a barometer of what’s gaining momentum among travel destinations,” Ferencsik said Wednesday.
The town’s proximity to Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin, its pastoral lakes and woods, extensive snowmobile trail system, quaint hotels and small-town character, exceptional hunting, fishing, white-water rafting, hiking and burgeoning ATV offerings probably account for its making the Top 10, Ferencsik said.
“Based on what our travelers have said, it’s really a wonderful spot for those who love the outdoors,” Ferencsik said.
Also, Millinocket lacks the tourist-trap tawdriness that characterizes other spots.
Exactly what the ranking will mean to Millinocket is impossible to say, but town officials were tickled Thursday by the listing. They hope that it will give the area, which suffers unemployment twice the state average, a much-needed boost.
“I think it’s a flag to something that a lot of people already knew. We have always been fairly popular and our popularity is growing all the time,” Town Councilor Wallace Paul said of the listing. “I hope it will mean continued growth.”
“It’s an honor to be on that kind of list because you’re dealing with this international web site and corporation that specializes in finding travel destinations,” Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.
An Expedia.com subsidiary, TripAdvisor.com gets about 20 million unique monthly visitors, Ferencsik said. Based in Needham, Mass., the site has been on the Web since 2000.
The owner of River Driver’s Restaurant, Twin Pine Camps and New England Outdoor Center, Town Councilor Matthew Polstein, said customers regularly refer to the site.
“It moves people. It definitely moves people. It’s a respected outlet for information on travel,” Polstein said.
TripAdvisor.com visitors might also have liked Millinocket because of a growing interest in outdoor adventure activities such as snowmobiling, white-water rafting and hiking, Ferencsik said. A survey showed that 43 percent of site visitors wanted such experiences, up from 24 percent a year ago.
Polstein saw similar increases at his businesses. Twin Pine’s lodging activity rose 50 percent to 100 percent over the summer months, while whitewater rafting trips on the Penobscot River increased 12 percent, he said. White-water trips on the Kennebec fell 12 percent.
Phil Savignano, senior tourism officer at the Maine Office of Tourism, said the ranking validates the state’s new effort to pilot a nature-based tourism program.
Conlogue and the councilors interviewed Wednesday hoped the listing would create town support for infrastructure improvements, including face-lifts to Penobscot Avenue businesses, the town’s new Web site which is being built, proposed ATV trail connections through town and more private investment in Millinocket.
“It tells the world that the Katahdin region is a beautiful place – world class, in fact, for experiencing the outdoors in all of its aspects,” council Chairman David Nelson said. “We need to build on that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.