With reduced travel restrictions, the tourism industry in the United States is seeing a rabid comeback. No place experienced that more than the Pine Tree State, which saw a surge of tourists, but found fewer workers to serve the demand. Maine's summer story may just be a proxy for the dilemma facing so many other destinations.
This past year, as the United States began easing travel restrictions, most states planned for a steady influx of tourists and revenue sales — especially in the state known as Vacationland, where Maine saw a 25 percent increase in tourism sales this year from January to May, compared to pre-pandemic numbers. What’s more, 44 percent of businesses said this summer was better than last year for economic growth and development, according to the Main Tourism Association (MTA).
Skift this week caught up with MTA CEO Tony Cameron about what the tourism industry can learn from Maine’s summer and what future travelers can expect.
Skift: What are some challenges you’ve faced to meet traveler demands and concerns?
Tony Cameron: It was absolutely the workforce. That was the storyline last year, and it continued to be the storyline this year. And it’s not just here in Maine, I know it’s all industries, national and international. A lot of our businesses here in Maine are small businesses, and it’s a grind to show up and make sure the customers are being served and we can put on a great experience for those who come to Maine.
Skift: What can tourists traveling to Maine expect next summer?
Cameron: No matter what the situation is, we’re going to be ready for the visitors who come to Maine. We look at a lot of the economic impact and how it affects every part of the space. But on the flip side of that, we look at the human side of it. It is those experiences, that tourism and hospitality workers provide, that give people an outlet to escape their daily work. Those memories really matter at the end of the day, and that’s what we pride ourselves on.
Skift: Do you believe Maine’s approach to tourism and the guest experience has changed or evolved?
Cameron: I don’t think so. For close to one hundred years, we’ve been known as Vacationland and that stays true today. A big part of Maine’s economy is the tourism. We’ve been able to capitalize off of something we already have—outdoor recreational activities for example—and we pride ourselves on providing a great experience, so people want to come back again.
Skift: What is your approach, going forward, to combat potential roadblocks and complaints?
Cameron: There are a lot of different people working on the labor demand issue. At the Main Tourism Association, we have our own workforce development program, because we understand how important that is to the sustainability of the industry. We’ve set up three approaches to this:
- Media Recruitment: Allows us to get the workers we need immediately.
- Long-term Recruitment: Get into schools and get people to embrace tourism and hospitality and all the opportunities that exist within the industry, whether it’s a steppingstone in their career or a long-term option.
- Education and Retention: Giving tools to businesses to retain their employees the best that they can and be better employers, so their employers want to stick around. Based on the seasonality of some businesses here, there is going to be some turnover, so giving employers the tools on making them an outstanding place to work is super important to our industry.
Skift: What lessons can the tourism industry learn from Maine’s past summer?
Cameron: Over the last several years, we’ve learned to never take anything for granted. We’ve always known that visitors are going to come, and back in 2020 we were all forced to take that pause and shut down. A lot of businesses were forced to shut down and it was detrimental to our industry. We’ve all seen a lot of things these past few years that we didn’t expect to happen. The trends we’ve relied on over the history of tourism have kind of been thrown out of the window a little bit.
The unpredictability of the industry is something we’ve all been hit with multiple times. I think the numbers will show that we’ve had a good year, but it definitely could have been better. We all learned not to take anything for granted and we’ve all learned that almost anything can happen at any point.