BANGOR — How can Maine be so hot and yet, at the same time, be so darn cold?
Look no further than a mid-January conference on the state’s tourism industry to answer that question. Hundreds of people defied the remnants of the state’s treacherous weather to attend the conference in Bangor, and organizers did their best to pump up the participants with word on the inexhaustible allure of Maine to the nation’s travelers.
It’s about marketing, officials said, unveiling the ’98 summer ad campaign that will run in newspapers and magazines across the country. Maine needs to keep on stepping up the sales pitches that it is now taking nationwide.
“The word is out,” noted Maureen McQuade, who owns the Inn By The Sea in Cape Elizabeth and is watching her business boom. “It’s exciting. I can feel the momentum.”
McQuade and others in the private sector are pointing to the Office of Tourism’s initiative, saying that the ambitious ad campaign is snagging the intended market — potential first-time visitors with very little exposure to Maine. The state scraped up $600,000 last year for a summer campaign and has committed another $600,000 for this summer.
“We are finally living up to what our license plate says we are — Vacationland,” said Roger Cauchi who owns The Lodge at Moosehead Lake, commenting on the results of the state’s new campaigns.
Because of increased demand, Cauchi is adding rooms at his small, select inn. Moosehead Lake in western Piscataquis County has long attracted a bevy of travelers — mostly outdoor enthusiasts — but the numbers were not up to their potential in recent years, he says. What was needed to spread the ever-growing fortunes of the coastal area to inland Maine was the generic ads that the state is now backing.
“We’re seeing more cars both in the winter and the summer,” added Bonnie Holding who runs an antique store, Gold Smith, near Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett.
As a licensed Maine Guide, Holding also operates Edge of Maine Flyfishing for travelers looking for a professional guide for fishing excursions. She says that her promotional efforts, like the state’s generic campaigns, are growing more sophisticated. She knows her market better now, she says, and is capturing the attention of travel writers and getting her free publicity in outdoor adventure magazines.
Holding also angled her way onto one of the state’s six print ads that are part of this year’s summer campaign. With her toothy grin and cherubic, shining face, she is shown hip deep in the Dead River, fishing rod in one hand and taut fishing line in the other.
But while Holding and her counterparts are enjoying better times, researchers are cautioning that Maine’s competitive position is eroding against its northeastern counterparts. There may be more tourism dollars in general, but between 1994 and 1996 the state lost a piece of the travel market to nearby states.
“I don’t know if you realize it, but you’re losing market share,” said Bill Siegel, president of Longwoods International, a tourism research firm based in Toronto.
Siegel’s research, presented on Thursday morning at the conference, showed Maine’s share of the regional market — including the Northeast and a segment of the Mid-Atlantic states — declining from 4.5 percent to 3.8 percent.
At the same time, though, his research showed that the $600,000 state campaign in 1997 attracted enough tourists to add $80 million to the already $3.2 billion that travelers annually spend in Maine.
That kind of return on campaigns is unprecedented in his research work, Siegel said, and he pointed to the potential to expand the industry and regain market share.
“The bad news is that you’re really not differentiated from the rest of the marketplace — you’re image is flat,” Siegel said, referring to people’s perception of Maine who live outside of New England. “The good news is that you have a great product to sell.”