As the leaders of Maine’s tourism and hospitality associations, we want to thank Gov. Mills and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson and their staff for drafting a 10-year economic development strategic plan for the state of Maine. This is a critical piece of work and we look forward to the report in November and to seeing how our industry fits into the vision of Maine’s future.

Tourism is the largest private industry in Maine. We are reliable, growing and vibrant. We are the workhorse of the Maine economy. It would be a tremendous mistake to take us for granted and assume that we will always contribute at least $6.2 billion in tourism expenditures, bring 37 million visitors to the state per year, sustain 110,000 jobs and contribute $610 million in taxes. To ensure that our industry continues to be strong and flourish, we need to be recognized as a major industry in Maine.

Significantly, tourism fits into each piece of the Governor’s Vision Statement, which reads: “By 2030, Maine will be known as a national leader for its forward-looking work in creating a diverse and sustainable economy. We will empower innovators and entrepreneurs, attract young families and new businesses, and revitalize rural Maine so that every person will know unequivocally that living in Maine means not only an unmatched quality of life, but an unmatched opportunity for good-paying jobs in innovative industries across the entire state.”

Tourism creates a diverse and sustainable economy. We incorporate small, medium and large businesses; we are statewide – urban and rural, inland and coastal; and we consist of hotels, sporting camps, campgrounds, restaurants, retail, museums, tour and guide services, amusements and recreational activities. Few industries are as diverse as tourism.

Innovators and entrepreneurs are the backbone of tourism businesses. Think of the craft beer industry, artisan chocolates and olive oils, farm-to-table restaurants, food trucks, the expansion of ski resorts into year-round enterprises and snowmobile camps sharing territory with rafting businesses. Tourism is largely made up of entrepreneurs and innovators–small business owners who create a unique experience for visitors or put a twist on a traditional business.

Tourism is a great way to attract young families and new businesses. Everyone has heard stories of people who came to Maine on vacation and returned to live and start a retail shop, bed-and-breakfast or tour company. State government wants to attract new residents to Maine? Tourism brings 37 million people here a year. Our way of life and our state’s natural beauty are what sell Maine as a great place to live. People get a taste of that through tourism.

Tourism is one of the best-suited industries to revitalize rural Maine. Other industries may have left, but tourism still thrives. Visitors are here for our natural resources, and tourism doesn’t require development in rural areas where it isn’t wanted. Entrepreneurs can marry their lifestyle with creative business planning by opening ATV and snowmobile camps, whitewater rafting and hiking tours, or restaurants and stores that cater to the visitors and owners of the local tourism businesses.

Hospitality creates good-paying jobs. Like any major industry (e.g., health care, education, manufacturing), tourism has many entry-level jobs, but it also provides great opportunities to advance. Here are salaries from one hotel and restaurant business:  an executive chef earns $65,000; executive housekeeper, $45,000; maintenance manager, $40,000; cook, $36,000; and hotel general manager, $80,000. Even those who don’t spend their entire career in the industry can reap great benefits by starting in tourism. Nearly 40 percent of workers whose first job was in the travel industry reached an annual career salary of more than $100,000 and one-third of Americans who started in travel achieved a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

We know tourism and hospitality will continue to play a major role in Maine’s economic future, and we look forward to being a key part of the state’s 10-year strategic plan.

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