Colin Woodard’s recent series on the cruise ship industry in Maine has been useful in kick-starting a conversation about sustainable tourism in our cruise destinations. But there are also a few points that should be clarified.

Although Woodard discounted one study of the economic benefits of cruise ship visits, the data are really pretty clear. A recent study in Portland simply asked cruise ship passengers how much they spent ashore as they came back on board, and the average was $105 per person. Bar Harbor came up with a similar number in 2016 from its own economic impact study. And although much was made of the growth of cruise ship visits to Bar Harbor in the series, a little context is in order: Over 3 million visitors came to our beloved Acadia National Park last year, but cruise ship passengers visiting Mount Desert Island represent only about 6 percent of that number.

But there is no denying that an increase in the number of visitors to Maine who come by ship has sparked debate and discussion in many coastal communities for a variety of reasons – and that’s a good thing.

As the CruiseMaine coalition’s new director, I had the opportunity to travel the coast earlier this year, talking with town managers, chambers of commerce, local residents and city employees dedicated to the economic viability of our communities and the preservation of our natural beauty and cultural identity.

I found that no matter how someone felt about cruise ship tourism specifically, they shared a feeling of pride in and love for their town or city. They also shared a deep concern about economic growth in their community, whether they will retain or create meaningful jobs, whether young people will stay or come back, and whether they will be able to maintain – or, if need be, reinvent – a core identity. Maine is not alone in asking these questions, but as the oldest state in the country and one that until recently, relied heavily on industries that have experienced some challenges and are being reinvented, we are ahead of the curve in confronting them.

This listening tour led us to expand our CruiseMaine coalition’s mission. Many of our ports would love to see more cruise ships come into their waters and fill their shops and restaurants, so we’ll happily promote these towns to the cruise lines that match their infrastructure and activity profile. The needs of some other member ports have shifted, and so we have adapted our mission to highlight sustainable cruise ship tourism in communities that want it.

As it turns out, this goal of sustainability can be applied to all our tourism. For example, dramatic growth in visits to Acadia National Park has led to the creation of a new draft transportation plan that seeks to manage cars entering and circulating in the most popular parts of the park and rethink the kind of buses that fit on the roads. These are trade-offs necessary to keep the park as accessible as possible to as many people as possible while also preserving the amazing resources within it. In Acadia and our other popular destinations, cruise tourism is a way to bring in visitors without adding additional cars to our roadways or taking up parking spaces, so it can be a key part of an overall plan for well-managed tourism in these areas.

Finding a balanced approach to visitors in Maine is something we’re used to. For the past 100 years, it’s been one of the biggest pieces of the Maine economy and will likely remain so for a long time to come.

And while we are figuring out how the cruise ship industry fits into our Maine communities, let’s not forget why there have been so many cruise ship visits to Maine in the first place. The 400,000 visitors who came to our state last year on a cruise ship chose Maine. They spent their hard-earned money to take a trip that stopped in Portland or Rockland or Bar Harbor because they wanted to see our state. I’d like to kindly suggest we move away from saying they aren’t the “right” kind of visitors. We have before us an excellent opportunity to work together to build a sustainable tourism economy in which we continue to offer the friendly welcome we’ve been extending to all visitors for generations.

We welcome the conversation and would love to hear from you at [email protected].