Maine Looks to Balance Tourism Industry With Needs of Residents

Visitors are extremely important to the Pine Tree State's economy, but the Maine Office of Tourism is creating a "destination management plan" to help alleviate overcrowding

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After two consecutive years of smashed visitor records at Maine state parks, and recent years of attendance records breaking at Acadia National Park, officials believe the state needs to have a plan to ensure there a balance between "visitation" and "residents' way of life."

To do that, the Maine Office of Tourism will, for the first time, create what it is calling a "destination management plan."

According to Hannah Collins, a deputy director for MOT, which is a division of Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development, two goals of the plan are "matching people with the right places that they want to visit" and helping visitors explore Maine "in the right way to protect our natural resources."

In some cases, Collins says that will mean more concerted efforts by MOT to encourage people to work with trained guides when trying risky activities like difficult hikes or ice climbing in areas with which they are unfamiliar.

That would encourage safety and prevent rural emergency service providers from becoming overburdened.

For example, Acadia National Park staff said they handled an unprecedented number of emergency calls on July 5, 2019, when the park also broke a single-day visitation record.

In other instances, Collins says the destination plan could call for focused marketing efforts that are meant to draw visitors away from a crowded area into one that could use a boost in business.

"Maybe there's an alternate destination that's comparable," Collins said during a Friday interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston, adding that she believes there are "many places in Maine that are under-visited."

To create its plan, MOT will begin conducting online surveys of businesses, Maine residents and others, with the launch of the surveys expected closer to April.

It will also conduct a series of town hall meetings and carry out various other assessments with the hope of having a final plan prepared by November.

"It does impact my day-to-day," said Kathryn Renna of Cumberland, explaining that her commute time to and from Portland doubles in summer because of visitors.

Renna was happy to hear that the state was looking into the issue of overcrowding, because she and members of her family have wondered if there might be a solution to the throngs of pedestrians who can snarl up traffic in Portland's Old Port in Maine's peak tourist season.

"There's only so much space," she said.

Others who live in Maine, like a woman from Bath named Beverly, told NECN and NBC10 Boston that she believes the state's plan is well-intentioned, but she thinks it may take much longer than the months currently being allotted for it to be successful.

She was also concerned that visitors to Maine might not like being pushed to go visit any particular place in the state.

"It's like directing cattle," she said. "I would be insulted if I were a tourist."

However, both Beverly and Renna believe that tourism, while at times presenting inconveniences, is an essential industry in Maine because of the billions of dollars it brings to the state each year.

"It's such an engine of our economy," said Renna.

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