S5E4 Maine’s Tourism Sectors: Our Economy, Traditions, and Sense of Place

On this episode, we interview David Vail, Caroline Paras, and Stuart Kestenbaum on Maine’s Tourism Sectors.


Portland Press Herald article on Maine’s outdoor recreation economy.

Caroline Paras’s coauthored Maine Policy Review article: “The Role of Aquatourism in Sustaining Maine’s Working Waterfronts.”


[00:00:00] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, the goal wasn’t to bring tourists to the area necessarily, but the goal was to make a vibrant community and then tourists can be part of that community.

[00:00:15] Eric Miller: That was Stu Kestenbaum, one of the panelists in our conversation about tourism in Maine. Hello and welcome back to Maine Policy Matters, the official podcast of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.

[00:00:31] Eric Miller: Where we discuss the policy matters that are most important to Maine’s people and why Maine policy matters at the local, state, and national levels. meta-narrative My name is Eric Miller and I’ll be your host. Today, we’ll be interviewing David Vail, Caroline Paras, and Stuart Kestenbaum on Maine’s tourism sectors. David Vail is Professor of Economics Emeritus and former director of environmental studies at Bowdoin College.

[00:00:59] Eric Miller: David’s current policy work centers on renewable energy initiatives. However, he previously focused on ecotourism, quality labeling, and on Maine woods destination development. In 2004, David wrote the Tourism Sector White Paper for Governor John Baldacci’s Blaine House Conference on Maine’s natural resource-based industries.

[00:01:21] Eric Miller: He has served as a consultant to the Appalachian Mountain Club and the New England Forestry Foundation, and for many years, he was a Maine Woods Consortium Steering Committee member. self-designed David has also been a board member of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Hudson Trails, the Chewanke Foundation, Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Coastal Enterprises Incorporated.

[00:01:43] Eric Miller: Caroline Paras graduated from the Tourism and Hospitality Program at the University of Southern Maine and is currently pursuing a self-designed Ph.D. In agritourism at the University of Maine, exploring the role of culinary trails in promoting consumer loyalty, brand promotion, and regional economic development. After moving to Maine in 1993 and gaining 20 years of service with two regional planning commissions, she now runs her own consultancy, ParasScope focused on market research and grant writing to support local food economies.

[00:02:15] Eric Miller: Stuart Kestenbaum is the author of six collections of poems, most recently: Things Seem to be Breaking, published by Dearbook Editions in 2021, and a collection of essays, “The View from Here”, published by Bryn Morgan Press. He was the host of the Maine Public Radio program, Poems from Here, and the host curator of the podcast, Make Time and Voices of the Future. He was the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts from 1988 until 2015. More recently, working with the Libra Foundation, he has designed and implemented a residency program for artists and writers called Monson Arts. Stuart Kestenbaum has written and spoken widely on craft-making and creativity, and his poems and writing have appeared in numerous small press publications and magazines, including Tycoon, The Sun, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and on the Writer’s Almanac and American Life in Poetry. He served as Maine’s Poet Laureate from 2016 to 2021. Maine’s tourism industry extends beyond its stunning scenery. The Maine brand highlights fresh seafood, sustainable practices, and the state’s deep cultural connections. Working waterfronts allow a glimpse into Maine’s maritime soul, while the Maine Oyster Trail allows visitors to experience sustainable aquaculture firsthand.

[00:03:44] Eric Miller: This focus on authenticity resonates with today’s travelers seeking responsible travel. The economic impact is undeniable. A 2022 report revealed tourism and outdoor recreation contribute 9. 2 billion to Maine’s GDP, and the Unified Seafood Sector brand alone generates an estimated 3. 2 billion impact.

[00:04:09] Eric Miller: Looking ahead, Maine is capitalizing on new trends. Agritourism allows visitors to connect with local producers, while the emerging concept of aquatourism offers exciting possibilities for attracting people looking for an intimate experience in coastal communities. Maine’s abundant coastline and diverse marine life position the state perfectly to be a leader in this new form of exploration.

[00:04:34] Eric Miller: The state’s rich literary tradition evident in the works of numerous renowned authors further cements Maine’s place as a destination offering a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural connection, and responsible practices. And now on to our panel discussion of different tourism sectors in Maine.

[00:05:02] Eric Miller: Hi all, thanks so much for joining us today. Maine has a unique brand of tourism. Can you each speak a bit to your roles in the state’s tourism industry, the history of the Maine brand, and how you see the state of Maine as a unique tourism location beyond its natural beauty? Stuart, let’s start with you.

[00:05:20] Stuart Kestenbaum: Sure. Well, I guess I have two connections. One would be in my capacity as director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, which I did for 27 years, where we welcomed visitors from 40 states and 15 countries every year coming to Maine for an intensive workshop experience. And then in my role as Poet Laureate for Maine where I wanted to have Maine residents and visitors alike hear the voice of Maine through its literature, come to know those experiences about what it is to be in Maine through writing.

[00:05:56] Eric Miller: Beautiful. Caroline, what do you think of when you think of the history of the Maine brand and how you see tourism as unique to Maine?

[00:06:06] Caroline Paras: Well, in my previous life as an economic developer, I worked with communities on a regional basis to describe the assets they could leverage for tourism, as well as the meta-narrative that connects the stories of their places.

[00:06:20] Caroline Paras: Now I’m a Ph.D. Student, I have the luxury of thinking differently about Maine tourism in terms of history and how the state positions itself within New England and the nation. Perhaps the Maine brand was born back in the 1800s when Thoreau made Three trips to the Maine woods, building a mystique around solace and spirituality in the 1900s, the railroads played a key role in the mass marketing of Maine, particularly to resort areas like Moosehead and Bar Harbor.

[00:06:49] Caroline Paras: And now in the 2000s, we’ve seen the state of Maine leverage means brand beyond tourism for economic development, for the attraction and retention of both businesses and workers. Last year, I led a study on the Maine brand where we surveyed 500 U. S. consumers and 250 Maine businesses and we learned that no matter the size of the business in terms of sales, Maine’s quality of place serves as the inspiration for innovative products and services. And that also we learned that sharing that story is important. Even in a global marketplace, as part of the survey, we asked consumers to define the main brand as well and identify how much more they’re willing to pay for main products and services. And the average size of that premium was 22%. Now we didn’t ask why, but I think this number is based on a couple of factors.

[00:07:42] Caroline Paras: One is that emotional attachment that people develop when they visit Maine. In our survey, the average number of trips made by U. S. consumers was seven. Another factor could be the halo effect, which is the tendency of a positive or negative impression of one product to influence beliefs about another product. So the Clean Air and Water Acts, which were championed by our own Senator Muskie, has created those associations between Maine and the ethos of purity and sustainability. Maine Lobster is a brand known around the world that generates positive associations with working waterfronts and quality seafood. Of course, we have L. L. Bean with a craftsmanship once guaranteed for life that no doubt has a halo effect on other products made in Maine. And I’m sure there’s also the Stephen King effect in terms of creativity and quirkiness.

[00:08:34] Eric Miller: Yeah, Maine, I’m not from Maine originally, and so it was this place that when I found out that I was going to be moving there, I was so excited because I knew some of these things. So it definitely has a far reach. David, what do you see when you think of Maine’s brand?

[00:08:53] David Vail: Well, I’ll start as the other two did by explaining how I’m connected to work in tourism. For me, the process took off 20 years ago when I was asked to write a background paper, so-called white paper, for Governor Baldacci’s Blainhouse Conference on Natural Resource-Based Industries.

[00:09:14] David Vail: So I was tapped as the tourism guru. I’m not sure I deserve that title. I’ll mention in passing that since then, I’ve had, I think, half a dozen Maine Policy Review articles dealing with the tourism sector. So my own work, both as a researcher and as a policy advisor, has focused mostly on what we call the Rim Counties, or in tourism parlance, the Maine Woods region.

[00:09:42] David Vail: Also a little bit in Downeast Maine, Washington County, Cobscook Bay, and the Bold Coast. And as Carolyn was saying, there is a very long tradition of tourism. Actually, it goes back to those railroad investments before the year 1900. And interestingly, Carolyn mentioned Musette as a destination resort. In 1900, there were 50 lodgings, sporting camps, hotels surrounding just that one lake.

[00:10:11] David Vail: Rusticators could take the train and come up for a month in the summer. Leisure was like that for the upper middle class. Hook and bullet, that is, fishing and hunting, aficionados were a core of the industry. As tourism in that part of Maine shifted from train-based transportation to car transportation, leisure time became more compressed for people, vacations became shorter.

[00:10:39] David Vail: Interestingly, if I can elaborate a little bit, because it has to do with the brand, of course the lakes and the mountains, and we’ll say the moose, were key attractions. But by the post-World War II period, winter tourism was really taking off. So first alpine skiing, and then snowmobiling became core parts of the tourism.

[00:11:03] David Vail: Attractions and in fact the biggest money earners in inland tourism in Maine. So the brand became one also of a kind of motorized virile activity, but as Caroline was stressing, mostly focused on the outdoors. And what I’ve been working on, primarily with a group called the Maine Woods Consortium for six or seven years, is essentially the necessity to reinvent that brand as markets have changed dramatically, something we may talk about a little bit more is that snowmobiling has essentially stagnated over the last 20 years. The same is pretty much true for alpine skiing and that has some really big financial and employment implications. Sporting camps have been shutting down. And what we find is demographic and so-called psychographic changes in the population that are leading to a new kind of tourists, really several new kinds of tourists.

[00:12:08] David Vail: But the terminology that has become commonplace is experiential tourism. It’s people who are still attracted to those interior parts of Maine, the lakes and mountains, for the natural beauty. The opportunity to do things outdoors, but the end of a day of adventure, they want a gourmet meal and a nice place to stay and they better have broadband connections so they can stay in touch with their stockbrokers.

[00:12:35] David Vail: This is a high-spending, a high-income group of people. We’re seeking some wonderful opportunities that stem from that. We may not like to face it, but the high average incomes of the overnight tourists in Maine are one of the keys to creating decent quality jobs. And I hope we’ll have a chance to talk more about the challenges of creating quality career opportunities in the tourism sector, as opposed to seasonal and part-time and low-paid leisure and hospitality jobs.

[00:13:09] David Vail: So I think that’s enough for now. I want to underscore the imperative of reinventing and rebranding the interior and Down East parts of the state for new markets in the 21st Century.

[00:13:23] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, I guess my, my role is more of a practitioner than a, than a policymaker. But another project that I’ve been involved with since leaving Haystack is working on the development of Monson Arts in Monson, in Piscataquist County, working with the Lieber Foundation, which made a significant investment in Monson using the arts as a way to spur economic growth development. We renovated buildings to be studios. We have an artist residency program and housing for artists. We also helped start a restaurant called The Quarry, which is Marilou Ranta, who was going to be making meals for our residents, but rather than have a standalone food service, she wanted to have a restaurant.

[00:14:02] Stuart Kestenbaum: So we partnered with her, which helped launch her restaurant. She just won a James Beard award. So that’s kind of taking off on its own. So, you know, the goal wasn’t to bring tourists. To the area necessarily, but the goal was to make a vibrant community and then tourists can be part of that community. But maybe it’s follows on what David was saying about the like level of pay for workers and seasonal workers is the best outcome would be to have a vibrant year round community that does.

[00:14:31] Stuart Kestenbaum: Real things and people can observe those real things happening rather than become a spectacle for people to come and observe. So I think, you know, the goal in Monson still ongoing is to kind of make the best place you can attract people to it through exciting things that are happening, and that will.

[00:14:50] Stuart Kestenbaum: Bring people along, but it definitely was that Monson was chosen in part because the property was available. It’s also the last town before the hundred mile wilderness on the Appalachian Trail, which is a very iconic place. It also meant that people in the town were used to having strangers come through town, which is not every small town has that attribute and the attraction of the Northwoods, that sense of place.

[00:15:12] Stuart Kestenbaum: I think really every place I’ve been involved with sense of place is profound. That, that’s really what speaks to people. And I guess the balance is to not damage that place by bringing people to it, you know, to not lose what makes up a brand, what makes you want to be in Maine and how to shepherd that, I think is really a critical challenge.

[00:15:33] Eric Miller: I’m so glad you brought up the culinary scene in Maine because out in Portland, it’s amazing, everyone knows just what offerings they have there. And outside of Portland, there’s so much to explore. And David, you teed up the rest of, or much of the rest of our conversation quite nicely. And it’s so interesting to me how you mentioned the stagnation of some outdoor recreation activities, as there’s been a boom for so much of other recreation and outdoor recreation activities.

[00:16:04] Eric Miller: And so I would love to peel and dive into that subject a little bit more and how it affects Maine. Acadia is one of the most visited national parks post-COVID and so how has Maine been affected by these fluctuating interests in outdoor recreation?

[00:16:21] David Vail: You know, what strikes me is a contrast between your emphasis on the explosive growth of some kinds of outdoor recreation.

[00:16:31] David Vail: Sea kayaking is one that I participate in and it’s a really good example of that. And then the challenges that go along with putting together a destination where outdoor recreation opportunities are one component, but not the only component. I talked about the dining and lodging as part of the appeal.

[00:16:51] David Vail: Here to me is a contextual, uh, challenge. Maine depends very heavily on the mid-Atlantic and in New England states as a source of its tourists. It’s essentially a drive to destination, not a fly to destination, just a tiny fraction of people are coming from far afield to Maine. We want that to be, it is growing, we want it to grow, but the northeast is an aging And not fast-growing population and so it is has been a challenge to find a way to appeal to the next generations of people, the ones who are ready to get involved in those outdoor recreation activities at the same time that say snowmobilers.

[00:17:36] David Vail: And hunters are declining in number. A factoid that has stuck in my mind since I first started working on tourism is that we know its place, as Stuart was saying, it’s the outdoor beauty and opportunities that are the magnet that get people here. But once they’re here, that’s not what they spend much of their money on.

[00:18:00] David Vail: Probably intuitive when you stop to think of it, dining, lodging, shopping, believe it or not, transportation, make up close to 90 percent of tourist spending. There’s about 12 percent that goes into a category that the Office of Tourism’s researchers call activities, events, And that would include almost all of these outdoor recreation activities.

[00:18:27] David Vail: Some of them when they’re guided or they involve motorized transportation and you’re paying somebody, a lot of you don’t pay anything right you Put your kayak in at a landing and you go, or you find a free cross-country ski trail and you go out and ski or use your snowshoes. And I know Caroline’s going to talk a lot more about this in discussing agritourism and aquatourism, an interesting new kind of outdoor recreation, if you think of it that way, going to an oyster farm.

[00:19:01] David Vail: And these are ways we get people in the door. But when we’re thinking about, say, high-quality jobs, most of those jobs are in the dining and lodging and retail activity. So we have to get people here so they will spend on those kinds of things as well. So back to your earlier question, it seems to me that one of the challenges that we are beginning to meet more effectively is attracting a younger population of more adventurous, outdoor people.

[00:19:34] David Vail: lovers at the same time that the general population that we draw from is aging into boomer and even post-boomer generations.

[00:19:44] Eric Miller: Thank you for illuminating us on these trends. And I found it to be interesting and it makes a lot of sense where people’s dollars are going when they go on a trip is largely to those major expenditures in transportation, lodging, and Stuart, do you have anything to add on to the trends in outdoor recreation in Maine?

[00:20:05] Stuart Kestenbaum: I was thinking in some way, you know, what’s coupled with that. And we might touch on this, the other questions, but you know, this cultural tourism that there’s a part of Maine, when you think of the old Maine flag, the pine tree and the star, you know, it’s the outdoors, but the built environment, the sense of history of Maine, the institutions that are there. From larger institutions to small historical societies are in virtually every town are a big part of what makes a part of a main cultural experience. And even if you’re driving to the North woods, you’re going to go through some small town that has some presence because of it’s architecture. So I think that’s part of, it’s not like you were just dropped beyond Moosehead, which even has its built environment too, but that’s, always seems to me, it’s a part of the mix.

[00:20:53] Stuart Kestenbaum: And I can’t speak from a statistical point of view, but if people are going to spend more money on things, the more you can make the cultural activities a part of it, then that’s more, more engagement and more engagement with understanding where you are, because I always feel there’s an element to tourism.

[00:21:11] Stuart Kestenbaum: Much as risk to people who just moved to a place is the best thing you can do is try to understand where you are before you open your mouth, just a good, they could say that instead of welcome home or whatever it says it at the main turnpike, you know, when you get. You know, like try to, try to see where you are, what it is, and that’s, that’s a part, that’s the fullest kind of experience that I think makes the most meaningful tourism.

[00:21:39] Stuart Kestenbaum: And if you make the most meaningful tourism, you escape the kind of trinketization of tourism. And I feel like that’s an important thing to, and I think that seems to me that would result in more high paying kinds of jobs by making a, a fuller, uh, Experience it calls on all elements of what makes Maine, Maine.

[00:22:04] Eric Miller: Yeah, the architecture and whether it’s just the long homes in New England and particularly Maine, and when you’re on the carriage trails in Acadia, you see the carriage house. There’s so many beautiful residential and historic buildings that really stuck out to me whenever I go around. Caroline, if you don’t mind before you contribute to the outdoor recreation question, I’m going to bring in the uh, and, and set you up a little bit, the seafood sector has had a $3.2 billion impact on the Maine brand. Can you explain to our listeners how tourism supports Maine’s economy and workforce and how has aquatourism specifically played a role in these small coastal communities?

[00:22:46] Caroline Paras: Well, going back to our survey of 500 U.S. consumers, we asked them to define the Maine brand and the top response was lobster, seafood, and fishing. So there’s really strong imagery there in terms of people associating Maine with the working waterfront. We also know from the Maine Office of Tourism’s research that 45 percent of visitors report eating lobster during their trip.

[00:23:14] Caroline Paras: But there are a lot of unique experiences that we are now calling aquatourism or even what David called experiential tourism that can help visitors really go beyond the restaurant and engage with the industry. One of those activities is a lobster boat tour. There’s actually 20 such tours along the main coast, half of which are operated by working lobstermen.

[00:23:39] Caroline Paras: And as part of the tour, you get to. Don the rubber aprons and gloves that are the uniform of the lobstermen. You motor out to the harbor with a group, you haul traps, you evaluate the catch in terms of measuring the lobsters and banding the claws and then returning the breeders and the juveniles, and then rebaiting the traps.

[00:24:01] Caroline Paras: So along the way, while doing all of those things, you get to learn about the sustainability practices of the industry and the life of the, lobsterman by playing a lobsterman, at least for 90 minutes, and depending on the operator’s license, you might also have the chance to purchase your catch and get it cooked at a local restaurant.

[00:24:21] Caroline Paras: Now in the Maine Oyster Trail, the activities are a little bit different. The state has 150 farms and about 50 of those invite some form of participation via a choose-your-own-adventure type format. It could be as simple as buying oysters at a farm stand, eating them at a raw bar, or taking a tour of an oyster farm.

[00:24:43] Caroline Paras: And I’ve had a couple of these experiences. One was a boat tour to a farm where the producers met us. In a boat, they shucked the oysters for us and they shared their stories. Another one was a kayak tour to a local farm where we had the chance to appreciate the marijuana up close and personal. And we also learned to shuck our own oysters.

[00:25:06] Caroline Paras: So we did interviews and also looked at reviews from 600 Maine visitors who participated in all of these experiences. And we came up with a four-part construct to describe them. What I call the four P’s of aquatourism. The first P is participation, which is really the most memorable aspect, whether it’s the physical kayaking or the shucking or getting to play a lobsterman.

[00:25:32] Caroline Paras: The second important one is people in terms of creating that genuine connection with a producer, but also getting to share that experience with family and friends. The third P is product, which is really about the quality, the taste and the reputation. And the fourth P is about place. This one’s my favorite. I always remember the weather, the sunlight dancing on the water, the whole landscape. That’s part of the experience. All of these factors really contribute to what I like to call the magic of the experience. They trigger the five senses and they generate that emotional connection. That’s the foundation of consumer loyalty.

[00:26:15] Caroline Paras: We know from our research that these experiences generate sales in real time. And that’s certainly one of the reasons why producers do this. 90 percent of visitors buy something in real time. If not raw oysters and lobsters, then merchandise. But there’s also that latent impact, that loyalty to Maine seafood that can come into play days or even months later when consumers go to the market or spy Maine seafood on a restaurant menu. And that triggers all of the amazing memories of that experience and results in a purchase. Again, we looked at the lobster boat tour reviews and some folks called it the quintessential main experience. Others called it the highlight of their vacation and even the experience of a lifetime. So these are really powerful experiences that can help visitors again, go beyond the restaurant and be educated about the industry and eventually become advocates of that industry.

[00:27:14] Eric Miller: It does sound really, really fun, I will say, and I’m excited to get Stuart and David’s thoughts on this. David, from your point of view, how has the growth of aquatourism affected local communities, economies, and sustainability?

[00:27:28] David Vail: The effect is positive. I don’t think there’s any question about that. It’s intriguing that we’re talking about adding value to a natural resource-based industry, fisheries, and adding value to another natural resource-based industry, that’s tourism.

[00:27:44] David Vail: But if your question is really, at what scale is this affecting coastal communities? I’m guessing Carolyn would agree with me when I say it is shrinkingly small at this stage and who knows whether it can be bigger. We get about 15 million overnight tourists a year coming to Maine. One percent of that would be 150, 000.

[00:28:09] David Vail: How many are participating in these kinds of activities at this stage? A couple thousand maybe. So we’re talking about a small fraction of 1 percent of all tourists and for tourist-dependent communities, we’re talking about something that is quantitatively small, but I think Carolyn would argue vigorously that qualitatively it makes a lot more difference as part of the brand, as part of the menu that people are seeing of the things they can do when they visit coastal communities.

[00:28:41] David Vail: And I think that because Maine is a state that relies very heavily on repeat visitors, people are loyal to Maine. Almost 80 percent are of those overnight visitors are coming back to Maine. Having been here before so that gestalt, I guess that’s what I would call the whole setting is what’s really important and opportunities to be on the waterfront.

[00:29:06] David Vail: And getting to know the people in the industry, tiny piece quantitatively, but I think important is part of the appeal of coastal Maine to a new set of tourists. I think that’s, it’s another thing implicit in what Carolyn is saying. These are different people from the people who were coming here in 1970.

[00:29:27] David Vail: And maybe parenthetically, I’ll say much, much richer than the Mainers who live in the communities. That they’re visiting. And if this is one way that we can kind of help to break down the culture clash between local people and visitors, you know, I would say that’s also a kind of fringe benefit, more understanding of the local people, the much more affluent visitors.

[00:29:56] Eric Miller: I see. That’s really interesting. And your discussion about how the aquatourism can affect and stretch beyond its direct quantitative results can affect the main brand. And Caroline, what you said about the sense of place makes me wonder what, Stuart, you have to say about How this experience when you interact with lobsters, generally you’re sitting at a picnic table or at a nicer restaurant with a tablecloth and then you get served to you.

[00:30:24] Eric Miller: And so the place that originated from is no longer an abstraction. People can go visit it. What do you think about how that affects people’s experience?

[00:30:32] Stuart Kestenbaum: I guess the more genuine you can make an experience, the more beneficial it is, because out of that, some real understanding can grow. That you come to know a place in a different way.

[00:30:42] Stuart Kestenbaum: I, I’m thinking I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and there was a person I ran into who had been at Haystack when he was a young man. He had since gotten married and introduced me to his wife and just said, Oh, You know, Stu is director of Haystack, it’s in Maine, and once she heard the word Maine, she lit up.

[00:31:00] Stuart Kestenbaum: She was aglow. She couldn’t actually remember where she’d been in Maine, but she knew she’d been to Maine. You know, I don’t get that when I say I’m from New Jersey, where I am from originally. What? You’re from New Jersey? You know, even though, you You know, Walt Whitman is there and Allen Ginsberg, you know, they’re great people.

[00:31:17] Stuart Kestenbaum: You could refer to a lot, Bruce Springsteen, even Max Weinberg, who was Bruce Springsteen’s drummer was in my homeroom in high school. Even with all that, it still doesn’t get the same thing as Maine. It’s like a quasi-religious experience for people. But then this morning I was reflecting on years ago when the city of Portland had a Marine.

[00:31:36] Stuart Kestenbaum: Um, Yeah. Only zone on commercial street. You might remember that when they wanted to have it because there’s condominium development and they said this is too much. We want to have a working waterfront, you know, and then, of course, it wound up that it’s mixed use again. But the argument was mixed uses power always goes to the highest value user.

[00:31:55] Stuart Kestenbaum: So they might say, Oh yeah, we love the boats, the lobster boats. And then eventually somebody in a condo says, what’s that smell? I didn’t know there’s going to be a smell of my condo. What that balance is like, you know, like, but the closer you can get to being around a real thing in any situation, then the better you understand it.

[00:32:12] Stuart Kestenbaum: I think for sure, it’s not a, I can’t speak statistically, but just, I guess, emotionally. But I think that it’s like, if you understand somebody with a different viewpoint, it’s If you, if you actually meet a person with another viewpoint, then it’s not an abstraction anymore. That’s actually a person you met and that, that changes how you’re going to relate to the place and to the people and how you think about it when you’re spending money.

[00:32:34] Stuart Kestenbaum: And I also think, you know, the spending money part, if I think about the impact of a place like Haystack, which is basically was a tourism center, you know, the number of people who came and said, fell in love with the place and became regular visitors. Bought property, moved to Maine. That’s enormous. And also the people who come are willing to invest in Maine because they come to know what it’s trying to do.

[00:32:59] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, the number of foundation people who have summer places in Maine, you know, of national foundations. I think that’s a real connection, which has implications for the state too.

[00:33:09] David Vail: You know, I would say, just point out, most of those people you just described have their places on the coast. And I wanted to just inject a thought.

[00:33:19] David Vail: When I first started getting involved with tourism policy in Maine, there was a lot of loose talk about Maine being a world-class destination. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed that if we’re talking about coastal Maine, it really has some attributes that are unique. In this country and maybe unique in the world as well.

[00:33:41] David Vail: I’m not going to do a direct comparison with Norwegian fjord country or something, but Caroline was talking about sort of the three L’s, lobster, lighthouses, L. L. Bean, but Acadia National Park really is a unique place. The mountains and the sea don’t come together on this coast of the United States. And it’s not a big surprise that.

[00:34:04] David Vail: Lots of rich and famous people would choose it as a summer place. My experience is that Interior Maine doesn’t share those qualities. It shares the aspiration, you might say. But we have competitors close by, like the White Mountains and the Adirondacks, which are actually a little bit closer to the large metro areas for people taking a long weekend break or something of that kind.

[00:34:31] David Vail: And I think distinguishing ourselves from them is a much bigger challenge than the coast distinguishing itself. And in fact, if any of you have ideas, I think Monson plays a really neat role in the Greater Moosehead area’s attempt to create a new brand for experiential tourists in the 21st century. But there aren’t too many places in interior Maine have that sort of cachet or potential cachet.

[00:35:00] David Vail: I mean, Monson, 15 years ago, I’ve been through that town probably 50 times, right? It was a pass-through town until really 15 years ago or 10 when Libra and you started getting involved. So that’s a distinction between the coast and the interior that I would draw. I’ll just add one little thought, and that is it’s only another hour or hour and a half to get to Cobscook Bay if you’re in Ellsworth turning south to go to Mount Desert Island, but people don’t go there in anything like the same numbers and their economies, although there’s been lots of talk about east ports.

[00:35:39] David Vail: Revival and renaissance, it never really has taken off. Part of the context is that we need to keep in mind the difference between coastal Maine and interior Maine.

[00:35:50] Eric Miller: Yeah, I think there’s this thread of like a mystical allure that’s trying to be chased and how Monson is in a remote place and you have this potential experience that is culinary, but yet really distinguishes itself and can surprise a visitor as they’re going through a rural place and you expect a fine dining experience to normally happen in an urban setting and to experience it in a more rural and rustic setting is something novel and I think that’s, Uh, really appealing.

[00:36:19] Eric Miller: But David, what you said about the natural distinguishing element of the main coast from the rest of the coast, East coast of the U S really underscores the importance of how the seasonal flux in tourist numbers can affect how well a community reaps in those tourist dollars. So how can we address and mitigate the economic effect of the off-season?

[00:36:43] Eric Miller: And does the changing climate. Does that enter the calculus into this as well? David, do you mind starting with that?

[00:36:52] David Vail: More and more of the communities or regions in interior Maine that are involved with the Maine Woods Consortium, that would be Bethel in the Mahoussacks in the West. the Rangeley area, and Moosehead, now including Monson.

[00:37:07] David Vail: Those are the three where the consortium has worked most seriously, but Millinocket Baxter is another one. Gold Coast Cobbscote Bay is another one. There are nine altogether, north, south, east, and west. I think all of them are describing their goal as becoming four-season destinations. I’m frankly of the opinion that mud season and black fly season are never going to be big times of year for that part of Maine.

[00:37:37] David Vail: But it is intriguing to see the kinds of activities that are getting built out in the fall shoulder season. That’s the one where the opportunity I think is greatest and it’s in part because there’s so many more tourists now who have both the money and the flexible time to push their vacations out beyond Labor Day and really all the way to Columbus Day and maybe beyond that too.

[00:38:02] David Vail: And I’m talking about the interior because a food destination like Portland can keep getting people even later in the season, possibly right up through the winter holidays. That’s an opportunity, and climate change plays into that. The frost free season is getting longer. But the flip side of that is that the winter sports opportunities in the interior part of the state are becoming more problematic as snow is replaced by rain.

[00:38:31] David Vail: We’re getting lots of precip in the winter seasons, and the modelers are saying we’ll get more winter precipitation, but we’re going to have more in the form of rain and ice. And of course for snowmobiling and alpine skiing, which are both 400 million a year industries, or for Nordic activity, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, which is getting up there toward 100 million a year business.

[00:38:56] David Vail: It depends on the snow. Sugarloaf is investing well over 100 million. In expanding its facilities and especially in better snowmaking, which they’re going to really need. People know, listeners may be aware that Saddleback has recently reopened after being closed for several years. So they are competing for what is already a relatively stagnant market and facing conditions where they may have a short run bump over ski areas, say in the Poconos and the Adirondacks farther south.

[00:39:30] David Vail: But over the long run, the prognosis just isn’t very good for those winter activities. So, you know, when we think about the goal, how do we create good tourism jobs? Well, if they’re going to be career jobs, they’ve got to be more than three months a year. They really have to be year round. There are at least some kind of productive activity year round.

[00:39:51] David Vail: So for the interior part of Maine, where my work has been, the dilemma is that the fall season is expanding, although labor is very scarce in the fall. The winter season faces the potential of contracting because of climatic changes. And that’s where, at least for the present, there’s a fairly. Regular workforce, lots of younger people who want to be on the slopes themselves, either working in the skiing industry or in the leisure part of that industry.

[00:40:21] David Vail: So what I’m sketching is a kind of dilemma in pursuing the aspiration of becoming four-season activities. And I would say, just hypothetically, because I don’t study coastal Maine, I think Caroline will have a lot more to say about this. It’s the winter season that is the one that’s the biggest challenge for coastal areas.

[00:40:43] David Vail: Places basically close up in the winter. I find that whenever I want to go to my favorite restaurants in places like Camden or Casteen or something, nothing happening there. So our climate is very seasonal. Our climate is changing in a way that the warm seasons are expanding, but even that presents some challenges to us and trying to become a four season destination.

[00:41:09] Caroline Paras: Yeah. I just want to add in a little nugget about Inland Maine. I was at the Maine Outdoor Economy Summit back in December and leaders from Rumford, Skowhegan. In Millinocket, you know, all recovering mill towns that saw their unemployment skyrocket when the mills closed. They were all talking about their tourism vision and how they’ve reinvented themselves.

[00:41:33] Caroline Paras: And they really echoed that what Stuart said earlier about Monson, that make a great community and it will be a great place to live. To visit specifically Skowhegan, they’re focusing on the development of a whitewater park, which after probably 20 years of planning is in the permitting process and they’ve gotten a 6 million grant to turn that into something real that.

[00:41:58] Caroline Paras: People will not only move there for the quality of place, but obviously attract international events, but beyond that, they’re also building on their heritage of farming and food production. And all of these activities, the planning, the leadership has resulted in 650 million in investment from Nike, from Main Grains and other investors.

[00:42:21] Caroline Paras: Here in Maine, and these are some amazing stories of recovery and during the pandemic, you know, the quality of place attracted 55, 000 new residents, including entrepreneurs and remote workers. And hopefully some of them made it inland and not just on the coast. But I was really impressed at, as an economic developer who had previously worked with the town of Rumford that they are finding tourism as a growth industry and as a way of reinventing themselves.

[00:42:51] Eric Miller: Yeah, that’s a really interesting opportunity that folks can have. Stuart, do you have anything to add to the off season question?

[00:43:00] Stuart Kestenbaum: I probably have some good jokes. I don’t know. I live in Deer Isle, so I just went to breakfast this morning in Stonington and, you know, there was one restaurant that’s open and there were very few of us there.

[00:43:11] Stuart Kestenbaum: It was at eight o’clock. Not that much going on, but you know, if you live here, you actually love that. Maybe if you ran the restaurant, you’d like a few more people, but you know, this feeling that there’s a sigh of relief. If you want to build a four season tourism economy, how to build in resilience is a, should probably be banished as a word that people get to use now, but some way, some sort of recovery, some way that you feel that your place is still your place.

[00:43:35] Stuart Kestenbaum: And, you know, that’s a balance because if Maine is about a genuine experience. The more it’s built, the less genuine that experience might become. And then we won’t be like any, any place else, but it definitely feels like a different place. And I think it’s a gentle orneriness as a part of that. It’s maybe that’s part of the main brand.

[00:43:52] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, it’s like, you’re not going to go out of your way. You’re going to be who you are. I mean, that’s what people respond to in a way you went out on a lobster boat. You wouldn’t want somebody saying, Oh, make sure you don’t get your cuffs dirty. You know, it’s that you’re on the boat. You’re going to do what you’re going to do.

[00:44:06] Stuart Kestenbaum: That’s a part of it. That’s just kind of reflections, I guess, just in general, in terms of climate change, those last two storms that we had feels like they got everybody’s attention in a way that no articles or programs would every time I drive across the causeway. You know, it’s in your mind what happened there, you know, it was, it was covered with water and there’s still, you know, adding boulders to the side.

[00:44:27] Stuart Kestenbaum: So I think that’s just that kind of, and the December rains is just circumstances beyond our control. They’re big ones, really big ones.

[00:44:37] Eric Miller: Yeah, certainly quite a threat, as well as providing interesting opportunities in the extended fall. But to continue your train of thought, Stuart, with the experience in Maine and how it affects people, clearly it’s had a significant effect on the literary tradition in Maine.

[00:44:54] Eric Miller: We’ve dropped some names in this episode already, but of course Stephen King among other authors have hailed from here. How can we expand beyond specific authors to showcase The broader literary landscape and its connection to the state’s identity.

[00:45:09] Stuart Kestenbaum: Well, and I was a poet laureate. We developed a project of the office of tourism that built on this radio program that I was doing called poems from here, where I’d read poems by main writers is that we took a number of those poems, had them printed on cards, and they were distributed to inns and hotels.

[00:45:26] Stuart Kestenbaum: around the state, so that when you checked into the hotel and you were gonna, you know, order a pizza and you open up that drawer by the, between the two beds, you know, you might find a poem by a main writer. And it would be a way to insert a sense of place and a genuine, couldn’t put a painting in every room perhaps, but you can put a poem which travels.

[00:45:45] Stuart Kestenbaum: Better, I think less breakable and less precious. But the idea was to give people a sense of where they were. There’s an amazing literary tradition. You could put together a tour in your head, you know, starting with Sarah Orne Jewett, you can go up to Longfellow, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Stephen King, you know, and contemporary writers too.

[00:46:03] Stuart Kestenbaum: There’s a very active main writers and publishers Alliance, very active membership group, and a lot of thriving, if I can use that word, uh, independent bookstores. Whose demise was predicted, but other than the most northern part of the state, they’re really hubs of activity for not just readings like they’re in Portland, you know, so the people are attracted to those kinds of events.

[00:46:24] Stuart Kestenbaum: And I think those seem to me like they would attract an audience. There’s Word Literary Festival in Blue Hill. Which is bringing nationally and internationally known writers for a four day event in the fall after indigenous people stay weekend. So it’s later in the fall and some of those people who are there, the reason they’re coming is because they have second homes in Maine, but they live in Brooklyn.

[00:46:47] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, so there’s definitely that nexus that we have in Maine, you know, it’s a big tradition. And maybe another part of it is the better writing honestly about a place gives a good sense of where you are. And I think that’s important. Definitely people respond like Stephen King will get you every time at Haystack Sunrise, we’d ask the taxi drivers to drive past if the people were flying out of Bangor, you know, just say, You know, you can drive past Stephen King’s house and you can see the railing with the bats and spiders.

[00:47:15] Stuart Kestenbaum: And, you know, it, it feels like some ways it makes Maine feel like a small town, which even though, what are we nearing 1. 5 million, 1. 3 million, whatever it is, there’s still elements to Maine that well, maybe because it’s basketball tournament time now I’m thinking of it, but just makes it feel like state of small towns and people knowing each other.

[00:47:34] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, you don’t get that everywhere, even though things have changed quite a bit. It’s still that underpins everything here, I think, in a way, which has nothing to do with literature, I guess, but I rambled off on, but, you know, you asked me a question, so I, I went with it.

[00:47:48] David Vail: What seems really relevant to me is the connection.

[00:47:52] David Vail: It may not be obvious, but the connection between what you’re saying and what Caroline was describing before. And that is that a big market is made up of a lot of niche markets. And there is a niche market in Maine, I think, for people who have some history with the literature of the state. We go through Soamesville and Searsport and stop at the little bookstores there and if it’s in the summer, there are a lot of people from away, a lot of out of state license plates parked around there.

[00:48:21] David Vail: When I go to Eastport, the craft movement there is very strong. I go to over Foxcroft, the same kind of thing. So these Places have a reputation with a small niche of people and I think oyster touring and lobster touring and farm tours and things of that kind fit into that category as well. They’re part of a what I would call a rich menu of opportunities.

[00:48:46] David Vail: Maybe not that many people will take them, but they do sort of become part of the mystique or the identity of the place, or maybe to use a word that a lot of tourism marketers like to use, the authenticity of the place.

[00:49:01] Eric Miller: Yeah. It makes sense that Maine has a draw to artists as refuge in places of creativity for a reason.

[00:49:07] Eric Miller: And Caroline, do you have anything to add to speaking of the arts in Maine?

[00:49:11] Caroline Paras: Yeah. I just want to echo what Stuart and David said. I really believe that the strength of the main brand can be communicated via storytelling. And that’s one of the common threads, whether it’s at the point of sale or interpretation or tours that we described earlier, really.

[00:49:31] Caroline Paras: sharing the story of Maine people and craftsmen and businesses and producers. That is one thing that creates the magic that people remember about Maine.

[00:49:44] Eric Miller: Well, thank you so much, all of you, for being with us today and contributing your perspectives and discussing the Quantitative element of Maine’s tourism as well as the mystical and so we’ll just close out here with some closing remarks.

[00:50:02] Eric Miller: So maybe on something we haven’t touched on yet or something you’d like to drive home a little bit more. Caroline, would you like to start us off?

[00:50:08] Caroline Paras: Yeah, I would say that. These aquatourism activities are definitely a summertime thing. We’re actually hosting a conference in Portland for tourism and hospitality educators at the university level.

[00:50:21] Caroline Paras: And it’s in early April and I had this great idea. Let’s do a lobster boat tour. Cause I’ll be back. Presenting my research in that area. And I emailed one of the two lobster boat operators in Portland. And, you know, they said, no, they took a pass. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to engineer that, but the main oyster trail is open year-round.

[00:50:43] Caroline Paras: Now it does have restaurants as well as oyster farms. So it might be something that you could do in the off-season. There’s also a great seaweed sector here in Maine and their harvest season is actually in like, Late winter, early spring, so they host that week-long event, I believe in April and they probably have over 100 restaurants and drinking places that are participating, creating signature dishes and all of those types of attractions that can help tell the story of Maine seaweed.

[00:51:17] Caroline Paras: Another movement that’s happening and that’s to share the story of Maine’s first people in terms of the indigenous population. I have the privilege of working with Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness up in Bangor on a feasibility study for their new cultural center, which is going to be a 10,000-square-foot museum for all ages in downtown Bangor, and they’re going to be again sharing the stories of the arts, the land, the culture, and the foodways of Maine’s first people. We actually did a survey of a thousand U. S. consumers who were likely Maine visitors in order to find out: Would people come and do this as part of their next visit to me?

[00:52:00] Caroline Paras: And I was extremely pleasantly surprised that 65 percent responded that they were interested or very interested in doing this on their next trip to me. And besides the museum, some of the other activities that they’re looking at are guided tours of a medicine walk and the Three Sisters Garden up in Millinocket.

[00:52:19] Caroline Paras: Which really is a form of agritourism where guides can share Indigenous wisdom and practices about food ways and their relationship to the land. There was a great article a few weeks ago in the New York Times about indigenous tourism and how visitors. Are not only looking to be participants, they want to be more than spectators, they want to participate, but they also want to be fundamentally changed by the experience transformed. So again, echoing back to that spirituality and again, looking for something immersive and experiential. So I just wanted to echo that.

[00:52:58] David Vail: After participating and listening for an hour or so, I found myself coming back to a challenge that I articulated 20, well, roughly 20 years ago.

[00:53:11] David Vail: We have destinations on Coastal Main at Acadia National Park that attracts nearly 4 million people a year. Acadia National Park is just overrun, I tell you. Parts times of the year, especially if the tour boats are in and Bar Harbor is being overwhelmed. Interior Maine gets a tiny fraction of those people.

[00:53:30] David Vail: And so the challenge that I was trying to put in 2004 in the Blaine House conference was how can we imagine a strategy that would get 10 percent of the Acadia visitors to add a couple days to their itinerary. And either head down east to Cobscook Bay, Washington County, or head inland to Millinocket and Baxter, or a little bit west of the 100-mile wilderness to Monson and Greenville and the Moosad Lake region.

[00:54:01] David Vail: I’m thrilled to say that the Maine Office of Tourism has really done some reinventing of itself to be much more supportive of tourism development and not just a marketing agency which was their Historic mission, but there still has never been the ambitious vision that could lead to a strategy that could bring off that kind of thing where we could capitalize on the world-class coastal tourism destination.

[00:54:28] David Vail: We have to goose more people. to take a little extra time and spend some extra money in the interior of the state. So there’s something maybe that listeners could think about a little bit.

[00:54:41] Eric Miller: When you mention inland tourism, I have the need to plug Mount Kineo. It’s a wonderful hike and vantage point. Or if you do not like to hike as much, the steamship or steamboat in Moosehead Lake is a special experience too.

[00:54:56] David Vail: And while you’re there, stay at the Greenville Inn, or the Blair Hill Inn, or White’s Fishing Camps.

[00:55:05] Eric Miller: We are formally associated with any of these organizations, but they are of such high quality that we feel we need to mention them. Stuart, to close us out, what are your final remarks?

[00:55:15] Stuart Kestenbaum: Well, this has been very informative because my background is not in economics, but I guess as a practitioner in the field of just working with communities in terms of developing programs and initiatives that build on a sense of place.

[00:55:29] Stuart Kestenbaum: It occurs to me, you know, like Maine’s never had big things, you know, we’re never going to get General Motors to locate a plant here. We, you know, there’s not, except for maybe Bath Ironworks and used to be the paper mills. There isn’t a big thing that’s going to come. It’s all incremental little things that need to be strong and I think the more resilience you build into a system so that if it doesn’t snow that winter, you still may want to go to the museum that makes it so that it just makes you stronger all around. And the other thing I think about is as a writer, this notion of voice, like you talk about an artist’s voice, like that you’re actually, you have the tools to say a thing, and then you’re saying it in a way that’s consonant with what you’re trying to make happen.

[00:56:07] Stuart Kestenbaum: And I realized tourism isn’t art, but the more that, that that can happen, the more that the voice is, about the place and gets it as right as it can get it. That makes the strongest thing. And the other mystery, both people who are in-state tourists and out-of-state tourists, is thinking that Bangor is Northern Maine.

[00:56:25] Stuart Kestenbaum: There’s a mindset, like people think they’ve traveled far and then you say, I was in a meeting with somebody who said, you know, if you fold the map, there’s a whole world above the fold when people used to have maps. You know, even within the state, people don’t always move off those kind of trails that they’ll go as far as Camden, but they may stop there.

[00:56:42] Stuart Kestenbaum: You know, they’ll go as far as, well, they might ski at Sugarloaf, but they might not go to Rangeley, which is a stunning place. I guess observing that, that there’s certain migratory patterns of people, both in state and out of state, that just, how to shift, if you can shift those a little bit, as David was saying, that could have a significant difference.

[00:57:00] Stuart Kestenbaum: And alleviate like the kind of Acadia crush, which feels like it’s beyond, I can never recall. It’s been, yeah.

[00:57:07] Eric Miller: And there’s so many beautiful places all over the state. And thank you all so much for joining us today and contributing your perspectives. It’s been a great conversation and I learned a lot and I hope that the listener enjoyed it.

[00:57:19] Eric Miller: So thank you all for taking time out of your day-

[00:57:26] Eric Miller: and thank you listener for joining us today. I’m Eric Miller and I’ll see you next time. Our team comprises Barbara Harrity and Joyce Rumery coeditors of Maine Policy Review. Jonathan Rubin directs the Policy Center. Thanks to faculty associate, Katherine Swacha, professional writing consultant, Maine Policy Matters intern, Nicole LeBlanc, and podcast producer, editor, and writer, Jayson Heim.

[00:57:51] Eric Miller: Thanks to Nathaniel Batson for composing our podcast music. Check out mcslibrary.org to learn more about Margaret Chase Smith the library and museum, and education and public policy. The Maine Policy Matters website can be found in the description of this episode, along with all materials referenced, a full transcript, and social media links. [00:58:13] Eric Miller: You can give our team your topic suggestions and recommendations by filling out the form at the bottom of our webpage. Remember to follow Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Thank you for listening.