CALAIS – The idea to shift the Maine Visitor Information Center from a stand-alone building into the lobby of the Downeast Heritage Museum last year has proved to be a good one.
The number of visitors to the Calais center is up 54 percent in 2006 – at a time when the combined number of visitors to state information centers throughout Maine is down 3 percent.
Through Sept. 30, 16,841 visitors came through the information center doors, asking which way to the lighthouse or where to find lodging. That is 5,908 more people than 2005 figures through Sept. 30.
Just within September, about 500 more visitors stopped into the Calais center than last September.
“We think the results are due to two factors,” said Jim Thompson, executive director of the museum, which benefits from the foot traffic when visitors decide to see the museum.
“First, the improved state signage was not fully installed last year at this time. But also, the strong Canadian dollar compared to the U.S. dollar makes it more economical for Canadians to visit this side of the border.”
Last year, license plates on vehicles in the museum’s parking lot were most often from Eastern states. This year, Thompson noted, the plates are more often from Canada’s Maritimes and eastern provinces.
The state has seven visitor information centers. Looking at the Maine Tourism Association’s attendance figures through Sept. 30 at the other centers, Houlton’s pace is 2 percent higher; Hampden (South) is 7 percent higher; and Hampden (North) is 5 percent lower.
Kittery has dropped by 7 percent; Yarmouth has stayed even; and Fryeburg, which is seasonal, is 2 percent higher.