Beachgoers walk down the sidewalk in Old Orchard Beach on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. The federal government will provide nearly $11 million to stabilize Maine’s tourism economy. Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald

Tourism in Maine in general and southern Maine in particular was up significantly this year over 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions kept many from visiting Maine or traveling anywhere at all, in many cases. To strengthen Maine’s tourism economy even more, the Economic Development Administration is awarding over $10.8 million to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development’s Office of Tourism, or MOT.

“The funding from the American Rescue Plan, which passed in March, will help the state’s tourism industry continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and strengthen the outdoor recreation industry that is a major contributor to Maine’s economy,” according to a statement from U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine, who announced the funding last month. “The funds will be used to upgrade recreational infrastructure, support short and long-term economic development, and create a new marketing campaign promoting outdoor recreation in Maine.”

“Each year, people from across America and around the globe come to Maine to experience The Way Life Should Be,” King said. “From our gorgeous coasts and lush forests to the beautiful trails for hiking or snowmobiling, Maine’s natural beauty is unmatched, and the outdoor recreation opportunities are unrivaled — but neither are immune from the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has prevented many Americans from traveling, and put many Maine businesses that rely on tourism at risk. As we confront ongoing health threats and economic fallout, these vital American Rescue Plan funds will help the Maine Office of Tourism support our state’s tourism and outdoor recreation industry. These businesses will bounce back stronger than ever before, so they can continue to support good paying jobs and play important roles in communities from Kittery to Fort Kent.”

In several southern Maine communities, this summer’s tourist rates were up to near pre-pandemic levels. In Old Orchard Beach, the number of visitors was larger than ever.

While the Maine Office of Tourism doesn’t track visitors by town, only by region, it does track estimated arrivals based upon mobile phone tracking data. According to that data, the number of those going to Old Orchard Beach so far this year was up, with 496,175 arrivals. According to the data, the town didn’t even face a hit in visits during the height of the pandemic last year. In 2020, arrivals numbered 375,175 and in 2019 there were 349,668. So there was a 7.3 percent increase from 2019 to 2020, 32.3 percent from 2020 to 2021, and 41.9 percent between 2019 and 2021.

Jim Semple, 67, of Baldwin searches for quahogs at Pine Point Beach on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, with his two golden retrievers Abby and Triska. Scarborough’s tourist economy is on the rebound after taking a hit in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. Derek Davis

Some other communities in southern Maine didn’t fare as well. Based on similar data collection methods, Scarborough had 254,658 arrivals in 2019, 224,044 in 2020 and 242,728 this year. From 2019 to 2020 there was a 12 percent decrease and an 8.3 percent increase from 2020 to 2021, with an overall decrease of 4.7 percent between 2019 and 20221.

South Portland and Cape Elizabeth also had overall decreases in arrivals from 2019 to 2021.

In South Portland, there were 405,370 arrivals in 2019, 283,635 in 2020 and 381,993 in 2021: a 30 percent decrease from 2019 to 2020. Tourism rebounded significantly in 2021 with a 34.7 percent increase over 2020 figures;  but still, there was an overall decrease of 5.8 percent from 2019 to 2021.

Kathleen Parker of South Portland steps barefoot over a stream at Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth on Nov. 17. Maine is getting about $11 million in federal funds for tourism. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Cape Elizabeth fared better percentage wise than the two other Cumberland County towns. Arrivals to the town in 2019 numbered 40,583 down to 33,152 in 2020 and up to 39,799 in 2021. That was a 18.3 percent decrease from 2019 to 2020, an increase of 20.1 percent from 2020 to 2021 and an overall 1.9 percent decrease from 2019 to 2021.

Tourism played a big role in the Greater Portland and Casco Bay economy even during the 2020 pandemic, when restrictions limited travel and also limited which business could open, how they could open, and when. In 2020, tourism had an economic impact of $1.2 billion, , according to the MOT. The region attracted more than 1.8 million visitors, who supported about 11,600 jobs, generated nearly $449 million in wages and salaries and spent close to $643 million on accommodations, restaurants, groceries, transportation, attractions, entertainment and shopping, according to the MOT.

“The Maine Office of Tourism’s efforts to foster recovery and resiliency in the tourism and hospitality industry combined with the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation’s efforts to grow the outdoor recreation economy provided the framework for Maine’s application for the Travel, Tourism & Outdoor Recreation Program funds,” said Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Heather Johnson. “The EDA grant funding to the State of Maine will provide the support needed to advance the projects of this integrated framework, accelerate the recovery of the state’s visitor economy, as well as lay the foundation for building stronger, more resilient tourism and outdoor industry sectors in the coming decades.”

According to a MOT summer tracking report that summarized tourism data from May through August of this year, one-quarter of the state’s visitors this summer were visiting Maine for the first time, one in three had visited the state more than 10 times and 95 percent of those who came this year plan to return.

Maine’s tourists hail largely from the Northeast, according to the report, with most — 16 percent — coming from Maine itself. Others in the top five states of where visitors came from were, in order, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and  Florida.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development  will use the  federal funds to strengthen marketing partnerships, provide technical assistance to businesses regarding industry best practices for a post-pandemic world, attract new workers, enhance outdoor recreation infrastructure and help communities develop strategies to mitigate and respond to the impacts of coronavirus, create jobs, and advance economic resiliency and growth across the state, according to a statement from King’s office.

Key elements of Maine DECD’s plans for the funds include:

A Maine Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Marketing and Promotion Campaign

• The state will expand marketing and promotion that leverages Maine’s cultural and natural assets. The Office of Tourism and Office of Outdoor Recreation will collaborate on marketing and content development that targets new recreationists with an expanded ‘recreate responsibly’ message.

• Funding will also support workforce marketing to attract workers to the state’s travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation sectors, capitalizing on Maine’s heritage and lifestyle through a branding initiative that strengthens and leverages the ‘Maine outdoor brand’ to position Maine as a hub for innovation and craftmanship in the outdoor industry.

Short and Long-Term Economic Development Planning

• Funding will extend the Office of Tourism’s destination development program, including the Community Destination Academy educational program developed in partnership with the Northern Forest Center to support municipal, business and organizational leadership in the seven most rural counties in Maine to actively shape the future of tourism and outdoor recreation in their communities.

Upgrades to Existing Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure

• The program will support new infrastructure including trail development and enhancement of existing trails and recreation amenities to meet this increased demand and improve access for diverse visitors.

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