March 19--BANGOR, Maine -- Maine tourism is growing, but that trend needs to continue and build momentum over the next five years to secure the state's place in the world, officials said Wednesday.
Part of that strategy involves leveraging the help of actor and Maine native Patrick Dempsey, also known as "McDreamy" from television's "Grey's Anatomy," as well as families reflecting Maine lifestyles and values.
The Maine Office of Tourism rolled out its five-year plan -- a blueprint and roadmap for the state's tourism strategy -- Wednesday during the Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Cross Insurance Center.
"This is critical," Gov. Paul LePage said during a brief statement to open the second day of the conference. "You are a major motivator and pusher and engine for growth in our economy."
He thanked the hotel, shop and other business owners in the room, as well as industry officials, for their work.
"This industry in Maine is essentially made up of owner-operators," the governor said. "It's hard work, it's low margins; it's tough when you have a downturn in the economy like we had in 2008."
The state's report finds that Maine's strengths -- including iconic natural attractions, demand for nature-based experiences among travelers, new infrastructure in parts of the state -- provide opportunity for growth. However, if the right actions aren't taken, rising fuel costs and constrained financial resources could stall further growth, the report states.
The report outlines four major goals:
--Develop the pipeline -- Expand research efforts to figure out who the next generation of travelers will be. Improve infrastructure that brings people to Maine. Increase awareness of Maine as a destination to film commercial and digital projects.
--Increase off-season visitation -- Gear more marketing efforts toward bringing people to Maine in all seasons by bringing focus to fall foliage, winter sports and more.
--Protect Maine's tourism assets -- Raise awareness of the Maine Office of Tourism. Ensure the office promotes and protects Maine's natural assets by assisting other state agencies.
--Make tourism a "shared imperative" by pushing for state officials to expand funding for tourism efforts and create a statewide "team effort" around the industry.
Many of these initiatives lean heavily on the state's marketing efforts in television, print and on social media.
The state will continue to develop The Maine Thing campaign featuring profiles, videos and print advertisements of Mainers. One of the first videos features an island lobstering family. The office also will aggressively promote the new VisitMaine.com website.
The tourism office also says that Dempsey, one of Maine's well-known residents, has agreed to help promote the state by appearing in video advertisements.
Ouellette and Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Director George Gervais lauded the tourism numbers Maine drew in 2013. Maine saw a nearly 7 percent increase in visitors in 2013 -- drawing 29.8 million, up from 27.9 million the previous year.
Direct tourism expenditures climbed from about $4.91 billion to more than $5.23 billion -- a 6.5 percent increase. Surveys found that of Maine's overnight visitors, 92 percent would recommend a Maine visit to a friend or family member.
Tourism also supports more than 88,500 jobs in the state, or about 13 percent of all employment, according to the state. That makes it important for growth to continue, Gervais said.
"The future of the tourism industry is ours to mold," Ouellette said.
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