State tourism officials say the results of a first-ever cruise ship passenger survey show the industry can be an important source of return visitors to Maine.

The Maine Office of Tourism commissioned the survey last year to take a reading of passengers’ experiences, perceptions and spending. It is the first study of its kind in the state.

“They really wanted to have this baseline understanding of demographics, where they are going, what they are doing,” said CruiseMaine Director Sarah Flink.

The takeaway? While they don’t spend a ton of money while here for a four-hour visit, cruise passengers love Maine ports and most would recommend a visit to friends and family. One in three plans to come back in the near future.

In terms of economic benefit, cruise passengers contribute, but certainly not as much as tourists spending a week or more in the state. About 400,000 cruise visitors sailed on ships to Maine this year, spending $29 million in the state.

Passengers and crew spent about $69 a person every time they came into port, according to the report. In all, the industry supported 400 jobs and provided $1.7 million in state tax revenue.

That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is additional tourism revenue for an average four-hour visit that doesn’t burden parking resources or roads, Flink said. The tourism industry as a whole is valued at about $6 billion.

Plus, that brief trip introduces Maine to people who might not otherwise visit the state, she said.

“It is not a zero-sum game, it is helpful to have that exposure,” Flink said. “We are spending marketing dollars to get people to come to the state – this is a one-day chance to show it off and they are paying us to do it.”

Cruise ship passengers have visited Maine ports in steadily growing numbers over the last decade. Ports estimated that 467,000 passengers would visit Maine this year, a new state record.

The influx of hundreds of passengers has raised hackles in some communities trying to balance the economic benefit with the disruptions cruise visits cause.

If passengers noticed those tensions, it didn’t seem to dampen their visit.

An overwhelming majority – at least 80 percent – of cruise tourists surveyed last summer and fall said they were provided a warm, friendly atmosphere and received good service in shops and restaurants.

DPA, a Portland-based tourism research group, talked to more than 2,500 passengers and crew across nine ports between July and November.

“Cruise passengers love Maine,” said Traverse Burnett, associate research director at DPA. “When they come to the state as cruise passengers they have a very warm welcome and people are legitimately happy they are here.”

DPA did not compare its findings to the feeling of cruise passengers in other markets, Burnett said. It also did not compare cruise tourists’ experiences to those of traditional visitors. DPA is hired by the state to conduct seasonal and yearly tourism surveys.

While cruise ships are a highly visible portion of the state’s tourism industry, passengers last year accounted for just 1 percent of the state’s 37 million visitors.

Generally, the groups taking cruises landing in Maine skew smaller, older and upper middle-class.

Couples made up almost two-thirds of on-shore parties. On average, passengers were 62 years old and had an annual income of about $104,000. Three-quarters had a college degree or higher.

Most people disembarked at least once while in port and most – about 74 percent – walked instead of using public transit, private vehicle or bus.

About half of those surveyed went shopping while in port, while almost 80 percent said they were sightseeing.

The attitudes from the survey confirm what passengers have told her in person, said Lynn Tillotson, director of Visit Portland, the regional tourism promotion organization.

“That is one of the comments we get frequently, ‘this is such an amazing place, we can’t wait to come back,’ ” Tillotson said.

That’s what turns one-off tourists into return visitors, she said.

“It is more than advertising in a cruise ship magazine,” Tillotson said. “You need to be able to give great service once they are here. If they get that, that is what makes them want to come back.”