CARIBOU, Maine — As Aroostook County looks to attract a broader swath of tourists, one city really wants to get to know its visitors.
Located just north of Presque Isle, Caribou has a unique plan to identify who is most likely to visit, then help them view the region as a major destination in The County.
For years, Caribou has largely attracted tourists through word of mouth and promoting recreation, businesses, events and local destinations via social media. But an aggressive new marketing strategy will target tourists looking for experiences that make Caribou distinct from other parts of the state.
This month, the city received a $10,000 Enterprise Marketing Grant from the Maine Office of Tourism. Starting July 1, the city will work with local marketing consultants and Aroostook County Tourism to identify groups of people who most often visit the region, what activities they are likely to seek out and how the city can better target advertisements to those groups.
“We’ll create ‘tourism profiles’ on who exactly these tourists are and how we can appeal to them,” said Penny Thompson, Caribou city manager. “For example, are they families with children or retirees? Are they visiting family? Are they coming here for the first time? What amenities will they seek out?”
Once city officials and the consultants identify major tourist groups, they will create specific social media and print content to entice those people to visit. Those items will likely include brochures and other publications at Maine visitor centers and short videos that highlight Caribou’s seasonal activities, Thompson said.
With the grant funds, Caribou will also create a special page on the city’s website dedicated to tourist information. That page will include lists of local restaurants, hotels, gas stations, grocery stores, repair shops and car dealers.
Similar to the Visit Aroostook website that Aroostook County Tourism operates, the Visit Caribou page will feature attractions unique to the region, including snowmobile, ATV and walking trails, local farm stores and events such as Thursdays on Sweden Street, Small Business Saturday and the annual craft fair.
Promoting agri-tourism and other businesses in Caribou’s rural regions will be a major focus of the new webpage and social media campaign, Thompson said.
“Tourists know we have recreational trails, but we also have lesser-known things. Goughan’s Farm has tons of things to do, and at Circle B Farms you can pick blueberries and farm-fresh produce,” Thompson said. “We want to show that Caribou is more than just what you see on the main road going into town.”
Marketing consultant Christina Kane-Gibson thinks Caribou’s strong sense of community and support for entrepreneurs are qualities the city needs to emphasize more.
Kane-Gibson is one of two consultants, along with Bethany Zell of Zell Creative Communications, who will lead the tourism campaign during the city’s next fiscal year and help employees gain the marketing and social media know-how to continue targeting tourist groups in future years.
From Caribou herself, Kane-Gibson served as the city’s marketing and events coordinator before leaving to focus on her own business last fall. Many proposals from a strategic plan she previously wrote for the city will likely become part of the tourism campaign, like showcasing small businesses, she said.
“The city, especially now, has been really great at championing its entrepreneurs,” Kane-Gibson said. “We need to highlight who these people are and how they can serve you if you visit us.”
To better gauge just who is visiting Caribou and why, Kane-Gibson and Zell won’t rely solely on who clicks on and likes social media posts. They will also talk with tourists attending events and even folks who have relocated to Caribou to find out what makes the city special for them.
Kane-Gibson already suspects that community will be part of their reasons for coming.
“When I worked for the city, we would get calls two years in advance from people looking to come to their high school reunion [during Thursdays on Sweden],” Kane-Gibson said. “People have always said ‘This is home’ even if they’d been away 25 years. So there’s this sense of Caribou being home that I think could draw people in.”