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Tourists are still flocking to Maine but might be spending less this summer

A store window, Saturday, June 11, 2002, in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
A store window, Saturday, June 11, 2002, in Bar Harbor, Maine.

High gas prices and inflation are taking a toll on Maine's tourism sector during what some hoped would be a record-breaking year.

Tony Cameron, the CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, said Tuesday that travel demand in Maine was "through the roof" earlier this year but is less predictable now. Cameron said visitor centers experienced an 18 percent increase in traffic this July 4th holiday compared to last year. But in a poll, just 15 percent of association members said business was up while 30 percent reported a decline. The rest said business was flat.

"When looking at the regions and the sectors, it’s kind of across the board,” Cameron said during The Maine Take, a bi-weekly videoconference hosted by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “So we are starting to see a bit of a mixed bag as far as what some of our businesses are seeing for trends out there right now. I think it is going to be an interesting second half of the year. July and August certainly are important months. September and October are incredibly important for us. And we just have to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep marketing and making sure that Maine is first and foremost when people make decisions about where to go.”

Visitors spent nearly $8 billion in Maine last year, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. That was roughly a 30 percent increase over 2020 when travel and tourism took a severe hit nationwide because of restrictions before COVID-19 vaccines became available.

Cameron said that Maine is a driving destination for many visitors. So while paying another $100 on gas during a trip might not discourage people from driving to Maine, it could prompt visitors to spend less at restaurants, hotels and stores.

“I think that travel demand will continue to be high,” he told Maine State Chamber President and CEO Dana Connors. “I do think that (with) gas prices . . . we will continue to see the effects of people taking a few less trips or how they spend money once they are here."

Labor shortages are also still a top concern for businesses, particularly in the restaurant industry. Cameron said labor issues in the restaurant industry pre-dated the pandemic and were exacerbated by the pandemic. But he added that restaurants are trying to get creative on how to address it and leave less “money on the table” this season.

“The heightened inflation, the continuing workforce (shortage), the price of gasoline – all is occurring in this year,” Connors said. “Yet in spite of it, you do see the evidence of people wanting to come and continuing to come because Maine is safe and the outdoor opportunities are immense. I think all of that works for us.”

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