The Maine Office of Tourism is asking for more input from Mainers to evaluate the state’s tourism marketing campaigns.

The state regularly collects and analyzes data on visitors to the state, but this is the first time it is asking for local opinions through a survey it has distributed to Maine’s eight regional tourism groups.

The Height of the Land scenic overlook on Route 17 near Rangeley offers people a place to get out and enjoy the region’s natural beauty. Staff photo By Carl D. Walsh

“This isn’t going to be an economic impact survey, or how many visitors you are getting,” said Steve Lyons, interim director of the Maine Office of Tourism. “We are trying to find out what is the most effective way to do regional marketing for the state of Maine.”

Input from local businesses, governments, nonprofits, tourism entrepreneurs and residents will give the state, and local tourism marketers, a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each region, he added.

Participation in the survey so far has been lower than the office hoped, Lyons said. It wants at least 1,000 responses, which it hasn’t met yet, he said. The survey is aimed people who are involved with the tourism economy, but anyone can fill it out online.

“I think we have a long ways to go,” Lyons said. “If we can get it out to a broader audience, we can get (more people) to complete the survey.”

Tourism is considered one of the state’s strongest industries, worth $6 billion last year. Buoyed by long stretches of warm, sunny weather, this year’s summer tourism season is expected to generate even more revenue. Tax data through June showed an 8 percent increase in hospitality spending this year.

On tourism maps, Maine is divided into eight regions – Aroostook County, Down East and Acadia, Greater Portland and Casco Bay, the Kennebec Valley, Maine’s lakes and mountains, midcoast, the Maine beaches, and the Maine highlands. Eight nonprofit agencies are responsible for marketing their regions and are funded through the Office of Tourism. Last year each agency received a $150,000 state grant, with a 50 percent match requirement.

“Is there support in the community for the program? Is there a workforce? Is there a hospitality culture in the region? Are the programs effective?” Lyons said.

“All the questions help determine if there is strong support for a destination marketing organization in the area.”

The survey is conducted by Destinations International, a tourism marketing industry group. Outreach started in half of the state’s regions in April, with group trainings and survey instruction. A second round of training will start in October.

Since this is the first survey aimed at Maine residents, the results should be valuable, especially in a state with a reputation – deserved or not – of aversion to outsiders, said Lynn Tillotson, CEO of Visit Portland, the tourism agency for the Casco Bay region.

“A lot of people say ‘Gosh, I can’t wait for tourists to go home,’ ” Tillotson said. “Is that how they really feel deep down, or do they recognize how important tourism is for our communities?”

Peter McGuire can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

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