WINTER HARBOR — For those who call the Downeast region home, it’s a given that we live in one of the dreamiest places on the planet.
It’s also a given that both the state and local economies benefit from people coming to enjoy our hallowed backyard.
Maine is “Vacationland,” after all, where at least 94,118 jobs and $5.4 billion in direct expenditures were generated by the tourism industry last year.
So the question of how to draw more visitors is ever relevant. It was also on the minds of dozens of innkeepers, business owners, tourism officials and local leaders who gathered at the Schoodic Institute Nov. 13.
They were attending an awards symposium and luncheon held by DownEast & Acadia Regional Tourism, an organization that funnels state tourism funds to groups across Hancock and Washington counties.
Several organizations received prizes. The Castine Historical Society was honored for its marketing and promotion of the Hermione, a replica of a French frigate that stopped there for several days last summer.
A similar plaudit went to Schoodic Arts for All, which promotes the arts around Winter Harbor.
Other award winners were the Eastport Pirate Festival, the Bold Coast Scenic Byway, the Bay of Fundy International Marathon, Lu Lu’s Lobster Boat and Smart DataMap Services.
The gathering was the first of what is meant to be an annual event.
Before the awards presentation, a slate of speakers also spoke of the challenges and opportunities facing the region.
“We can’t sit on our laurels and just say, ‘We’ve got the most beautiful place on Earth.’ We’ve got to do more than that,” said Chris Rector, an aide for U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) who also runs an ice cream stand in Camden, in opening remarks that set the tone for the event.
The group then heard from Alvion Kimball, owner of the Orland House Bed and Breakfast and chairman of the DownEast & Acadia Regional Tourism Board. He helped organize the event and listed several regional assets the group has focused on promoting.
Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, then spoke of developments and progress in the industry. Visitation to Maine this past summer was up 5 percent from 2014, with a higher proportion of visitors from Mid-Atlantic states.
She also described three types of “audiences” the Maine tourism office has been targeting with its ads.
First are the “balanced achievers,” who enjoy both the cultural experiences you’d find in a city and the rugged charms of either nature or a small town. They tend to be big spenders and more ethnically diverse, Ouellette said.
Next are the “genuine originals,” who prefer places off the beaten path, enjoy the outdoors and avoid “cookie-cutter vacations.” Last are the “social sophisticates,” who are interested in luxury, services, social status and appearances, Ouellette said. They “are not careful about money,” she added.
The last of the event’s main speakers was Ellsworth City Manager David Cole, who used to head Eastern Maine Development Corp. and the Maine Department of Transportation. From the latter role, Cole said, he’s learned much about the logistics of promoting tourism Downeast.
He explained how proximity to important transit corridors and hubs — I-95, Route 1, the Bar Harbor and Bangor airports — has made Ellsworth a linchpin for travelers coming Downeast and helped it grow faster than other coastal communities such as Belfast and Rockland.
Ellsworth has the ability to “get people where they want to go,” he said.
At the same time, Cole highlighted broadband Internet as an area in which communities should invest if they want to attract people in the information age.