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Updated: November 2, 2020

Winter tourism campaign to leverage Maine brand as outdoor escape

Screenshot / Courtesy, Maine Office of Tourism A draft of an ad designed to showcase winter activities as part of the Maine Office of Tourism’s winter marketing campaign.

The Maine Office of Tourism’s winter marketing campaign will leverage the theme of Maine’s outdoor recreation and wide-open spaces as a safe and healthy environment and a stress-reliever during the pandemic.

Topics will include wide open spaces and winter getaways while folding in lodging, dining and cultural opportunities, Charlene Williams, president of Marshall Communications, said during MOT’s virtual quarterly tourism stakeholders meeting held on Oct. 29.

The campaign will also highlight holiday shopping and Maine-made products. 

Darci Bandi-Schedler, an account advisor with Milwaukee marketing agency BVK, which is working with MOT to put together the winter promotion, said the agency has identified several travel trends for this year:

  • Widespread stress driving a need for mental retreats;
  • Virtual work and school extend the typical travel window; and
  • Safe escapes in less crowded places.

Accordingly, the agency’s strategy includes positioning Maine as an idyllic oasis. The goal is to increase consumer awareness with a multichannel plan designed to entice people who are thinking about traveling. The campaign begins Nov. 16 and will run through March. 

The campaign will use print, TV, radio, social media and influencer channels. 

Safe-destination message

Working and schooling from home provides an opportunity to reach people who may be seeking places that are safe and less crowded, and also offer outdoor recreation, said Bandi-Schedler.

As the colder months come on, people are going to look at ways to escape and feel refreshed, she said. Maine has the opportunity to offer new scenery and perspectives, she continued.

“We’re going to position Maine as the perfect winter retreat,” she said. “We’ll do that with an emotional connection” that encompasses outdoor recreation, with a focus on Maine’s natural beauty, cozying up, being outdoors and rejuvenation.

Creative spots will showcase wide-open spaces, with images such as skiing and small-town streets, with the idea of driving home the message that, despite the pandemic, Maine is a safe destination, she said.

More outdoor gear sales

Preliminary data show visitation to Maine is down 32% year-to-date from 2019. But there’s reason for optimism, MOT Director Steve Lyons said.

Screenshot / Courtesy, Maine Office of Tourism
Steve Lyons

“Visitation is not as we’ve seen in the past, but there has been some improvement,” he said. “I think we should keep our hopes up and keep as positive as we can.”

MOT is tracking reports of increased sales this year of outdoor gear such as bikes, kayaks and skis, Lyons said.

“People are taking advantage of Maine being an outdoor state,” he said.

Visitation this year has been a little unusual in that the vast majority of tourists were from Maine, he said.

Overall, 82% of overnight a day-trippers came from seven states, as follows:

  • Maine, 35%
  • Massachusetts, 15%
  • New Hampshire, 14%
  • New York, 6%
  • Connecticut, 5%
  • Florida, 4%
  • Vermont, 3%.

The Florida figure likely represents Maine’s many “snowbirds” or people who migrate between the two states, he said.

“I think people did want to escape,” Lyons said.

Just over half of visitors were interested in culinary experiences. 

“We have a big foodie program here in Maine and a lot of people come up here for the seafood,” he said.

For general sightseeing, people mostly traveled around the coastal regions. Top components of outdoor activities were going to the beach to swim, canoeing and kayaking, and hiking at Acadia National Park. Camping was also big and campgrounds in northern Maine seemed to do very well, he said.

Cellphone tracking

New information this year came from mobile phone tracking. It revealed that, although overall visitation was down 32%, some counties did much better than others. In particular, northern rural counties saw increases in visitation.

“So it appears that people are looking for those destinations where they really could get away from the crowds and be on their own in the wilderness,” Lyons said. “We’re looking at some double-digit increases in some counties.” Important to keep in mind, though, is that those counties didn’t necessarily have high visitation in real numbers, he added.

Counties that saw increased visitation were Franklin, Hancock, Lincoln, Oxford, Somerset, Piscataquis and Washington.

Counties that saw decreased visitation were Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox and Waldo. Those that saw little change were Aroostook, Penobscot, Sagadahoc and York.

Occupancy uptick

Occupancy rates for the summer were down considerably compared with 2019, but trended up as the summer wore on and state travel restrictions were lifted, Lyons said.

According to Smith Travel Research, a national research firm, the occupancy rates were and how they compared to last year:

  • May: 21% in 2020 (versus 56% in 2019)
  • June: 28% (vs. 70%)
  • July:45% (vs.  81%)
  • August: 63% (vs. 86%)

“We didn’t come to the same level as last year,” said Lyons, given people’s concerns about traveling. But he saw signs of hope in the increase in occupancy as summer progressed.

Sales tax trends reflect loss of occupancy. From May through August, restaurant sales were down 34% and lodging was down 78%. But online shopping went up 43% and food store sales were up 2%. 

The three-day Indigenous People’s Day weekend, considered a key segment of the fall shoulder season, saw mixed returns, with more than a third of the respondents to a Maine Tourism Association survey saying business was down 50% compared to a year ago.

A forecast by the University of Southern Maine projected tourism revenue to be off $1.7 billion this year.

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