Mary Breen has owned her bakery on Ogunquit’s Main Street for 26 years and she’s never seen the streets more crowded than she has this summer.

“July 4th was the busiest day we’ve (ever) had,” she said of her business, Bread & Roses Bakery. “May and June were on par, but July was way up, August was phenomenal and there’s no reason that September won’t be as well.”

Breen’s is just one of thousands of Maine businesses dependent on the summer tourism season, which traditionally ends on Labor Day. Her observations are buoyed by data from the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Portland International Jetport, which both reported record-breaking summer traffic this year.

But this summer is not likely to be the best ever, said Christopher Fogg, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, who cited flagging spending by Canadian tourists.

“It’s been a very strong season, and while I don’t think we’ll set any records, I think it’s going to end up being better than last year,” Fogg said. “I think one of the challenges we saw this year that kept it from being one of our best seasons is the difference in the exchange rate with the Canadian dollar.”

A weak Canadian dollar – it fell to an 11-year low in late August – means cash for Canadian visitors isn’t going as far as it used to.


“The Canadians still came, but not in the numbers that we saw in previous years,” Fogg said.

Breen said she didn’t notice fewer Canadians this summer, but the counts from the turnpike back up Fogg’s point.

The number of Canadian cars using the turnpike this summer has dropped by roughly 20 percent, said Doug Davidson, chief financial officer at the turnpike authority. Last year, 8 percent of summer turnpike traffic was from Canada; this year he predicts it will be closer to 6 percent.

“But even with the drop-off with Canadians, the rest of the New England states have made up for it,” Davidson said.

Statewide restaurant and lodging sales were up nearly 5.6 percent year-to-date through June, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. Sales receipts from restaurants and lodging for July and August won’t be ready until later this fall.

“What we’ve seen to date, just from those pieces themselves, is that it’s turning out to be a really strong summer season for Maine,” said Carolann Ouellette, director of the tourism office.


Lance Meadows, who launched a business this summer providing afternoon and sunset sails out of Belfast on his two-masted schooner, the Timberwind, said the crowds provided a great inaugural season.

“We don’t have much to compare it to, but there were a lot of people,” he said. “The business is growing at a pace we hoped it would. I’m definitely encouraged for next year.”

“We’ve had an amazing season, to be really honest,” said Karen Brezsnyak, director of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce.


The Ogunquit Camera Shop, which sells toys and kites along with cameras and photography equipment, is also having an amazing summer, reported Tracy Smith, who has worked in the family shop for 21 years.

“I think people are feeling better about the economy, better about their spending, and I think after the very harsh winter we suffered here in New England, everybody was ready to get out and enjoy the summer,” Smith said.


It’s not just the coast seeing an uptick in business. In Bethel, the Sunday River resort has seen a significant increase in summer traffic, said Sarah Devlin, director of communications for the four-season business. Its biggest draws were the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School programs, which experienced a 30 percent increase in participants over last year, and its scenic chairlift rides, which have seen a 44 percent increase, Devlin said.

“We are almost hitting our seasonal budget and we still have another six weeks of the season left,” Devlin said. Sunday River winds down its summertime activities and begins getting ready for winter on Oct. 11.

Some of the preliminary hard data trickling in supports the anecdotal evidence pointing to a great summer season.

The Maine Turnpike broke a record in August with more than 8 million passenger cars using the state’s major traffic artery, a single-month record and a 2.7 percent increase over the same month last year. Summer traffic is setting up the turnpike to break annual records in passengers and revenue.

“Even with the first three months of the year obliterated by snowstorms, we’re still going to beat our all-time record,” said Davidson, of the turnpike authority. “So that’s how strong overall traffic really is.”

The jetport experienced its best June on record with 170,478 total passengers passing through its gates, and its second-best July ever with 196,881 total passengers. August passenger totals are not yet available.


And more of those arriving at the airport are renting cars. Gross car-rental revenue in July reached nearly $5.2 million, an all-time record for the month and a 14.8 percent increase over a year ago, said Paul Bradbury, the jetport’s director. Total revenue for August car rentals is not yet available.

Other metrics also point to a booming summer. Visits to Acadia National Park were up 11 percent year-to-date through July.


Several factors are likely contributing to the health of the tourism season, said Ouellette at the tourism office, including gorgeous weather, increased consumer confidence, low gas prices and a generally improved economy.

Marketing, as well, is a “critically important” factor in growing Maine’s tourism industry, which has an $8 billion economic impact in the state, Ouellette said, and is often touted as Maine’s most important industry. Her office has expanded the geographic reach of its marketing efforts in the past year, including running television ads in the southeastern United States and parts of Texas. Although the results of those efforts won’t be known for several months, Ouellette is hopeful there’ll be a bump in visitors from those areas.

“It’s so competitive in the destination marketing landscape that the more targeted and strategic we are and the broader reach we have, the better it is,” she said. “It’s a critical component in the mix.”


Last year Maine hosted 4 million first-time visitors, which was a 43 percent increase over the number of first-time visitors in 2013, Ouellette said. Attracting more of those first-time visitors is a key to future growth, she said.

“Maine is known for its high repeat destination, so exposing new people to the destination is key to growing visitation overall,” she said.

Also in Maine’s favor: People are looking for more authentic destinations, said Ouellette, who has been in the tourism business for 36 years.

“Maine is just in such a great spot because of what travelers are looking for in a destination,” she said. “They want to learn something and connect with people and look for something real. Maine is so perfectly situated in that sweet spot.”


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