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The travel and tourism industry is Maine’s economic engine, responsible for 110,000 jobs, generating over $9 billion in total annual sales and bringing in over $610 million in tax dollars. Our significance to the well-being of the state cannot be overstated.
Today, people in our industry — from restaurants and inns on the coast to sporting camps in the Maine woods and ski mountains that closed early — are suffering, along with many, many others.
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And while most of the news has been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, rather depressing and uncertain, our past offers a message of optimism: We will get through this. Tourism will survive and thrive.
The Maine Tourism Association has been in existence for nearly 100 years, and during that time, Maine and the nation have faced many disruptive events: the Great Depression, two world wars, wars in Korea and Vietnam, 9/11, and the Great Recession. The tourism industry was hit hard by all of these, but we bounced back. And we will again. No matter what the world has brought us, tourism has remained stable, reliable, and sustainable.
In the 1930s, Maine’s top five industries in terms of economic impact and number of employees were, from largest to smallest were: recreation, pulp and paper products, woolen products, boot and shoe products, and cotton products.
And while, unfortunately, most of these large industries of the past have been greatly reduced or disappeared completely, tourism has remained strong. It is crucial — not just for those in the tourism industry but to everyone in Maine who benefits from the tourism economy — that tourism is one of the fastest to recover and recover strongly.
That is why we are committed to not only helping our members get through this crisis, we are planning for the day when lives start to return to normal, because when this crisis is over, all of the reasons people travel to Maine will still be here — our coastline and beaches, our woods, parks, lakes, mountains and hiking trails, local foods and craft beers, and our legendary Maine hospitality.
On the national and international scale, the numbers we are seeing right now in terms of jobs and revenue lost are staggering. Maine businesses are suffering in equivalent measure. However, many visitors to Maine come from New England and mid-Atlantic states and eastern Canada. Travel close to home and in driving distance will be the first to come back.
Those of us who live in Maine will play an important role in getting tourism businesses back on their feet. Many of us still have places right here in our own backyard that we have yet to visit and experience. So, here’s what you can do right now: Use this time to plan your future Maine vacation.
According to U.S. Travel Association research, those who plan vacations use more of their time off and take longer vacations. Planners use an average of 12 vacation days per year versus just five for those who don’t. Nearly half of people who plan use all of their vacation time. And, remember, you only have 18 years to create lifelong travel memories with children or grandchildren before they are off on their own.
As soon as it is safe to do so — and only when health experts say it is safe to do so — travel around Maine. Visit parks, lakes, museums, historic locations, shops, and restaurants that you have never been to before. Take the time to experience Maine as our visitors do. Our bicentennial makes this an especially good time to get to know our state better.
In the meantime, buy gifts cards from Maine businesses for yourself or to share. When this crisis passes, you will be prepared to have a weekend getaway, go out to eat, take a guided tour, stay at a lakeside cabin or campground, or do some pleasure shopping. Prepaying for these things ensures you will do them and helps sustain our tourism businesses while times are tough.
Finally, as the organization that represents all segments of Maine’s tourism industry, the Maine Tourism Association says thank you to all the businesses and workers who are dealing with these great challenges with such dignity, resiliency, and optimism. And thank you to our leaders and our neighbors throughout Maine who support our tourism businesses and will help our industry get back on its feet.
We will get through this the same way we always have — together.
Tony Cameron is the chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association.