The icons of social media apps Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp can be seen on the screen of a smartphone in Kempten, Germany, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand / dpa via AP

HOULTON, Maine — Social media messages to “Come North” helped grow overnight tourist spending in northern Maine by 13 percent from 2021.

The messages are attracting more visitors, said Tourism Developer Jacob Pelkey during the annual Aroostook County Tourism Summit in Houlton on Tuesday.

Aroostook County visitors spent 200,200 nights in Aroostook County accommodations throughout 2022, up 25 percent from 2021, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. Those visitors spent more money. Social media interactions were part of the reason, tourism officials said.

“Primarily the ‘front door’ is that person sitting in Portland waiting for the bus, scrolling on their phone, and we interact with them on Facebook with this amazing photo of The County and they say, ‘Wow, what is that?’” Pelkey said.

Those initial quick interactions eventually bring more visitors to The County, he said.

tourists flock the county

Though overall visits to The County were down slightly from last year, overnight guests stayed longer and spent more, said Hannah Collins, deputy director of the Maine Office of Tourism.

Visitors to Aroostook County spent $160,705,800 in 2022 on accommodations, transportation, groceries, restaurants, shopping, entertainment and other expenses, up 13.2 percent from 2021, Collins said.

Tourism developer Jacob Pelkey is seen speaking at the Aroostook County Tourism Summit in April 2022.

Aroostook saw a total economic impact — which strengthens the local economy, creates more jobs and can improve the local infrastructure — from those longer stays of $246 million in 2022, up 13 percent from the previous year, she said.  

This year’s tourism summit drew about 75 Mainers from around The County interested in learning more about how to attract visitors to their businesses. Pelkey showed them how they can link into already packaged tourism stories, photos, videos and online content created by Aroostook County Tourism and Pelkey’s team of writers and professional photographers.

Aroostook County Tourism develops content that can be delivered over many platforms — Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube — but Facebook is still king with their click-through ratings, Pelkey said. For example, there was an amazing ice carousel in St. Agatha, he said.  

He picked up a photo of the carousel by one of his photographers, gave it a snappy headline, tagged up with businesses around the lake and ran the photos once so people could find it, he said.

record-setting mainers

“We didn’t put a dollar of advertising behind it. It just took a few minutes of time,” Pelkey said. “This is something that the locals really ate up and they liked it in comments, they shared it and all of sudden we have 192,000 now knowing there is an ice carousel.”

But online content gets stale quickly, and needs to be changed constantly to continue drawing interest, he said.

Aroostook County Tourism saw tremendous online and social media growth last year: about 11,000 followers, up about 2,000 from last year; they reached 613,000 people; and people connected online with Aroostook County Tourism nearly 2 million times since last July, Pelkey said.

“That is a huge increase,” he added.

Correction: The story has been changed to reflect the accurate number of post impressions from the ice carousel photo.

Avatar photo

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...