Investment in Tourism Destinations Will Pay High Dividends in Rural Maine’s Economic Development

Realizing rural Maine’s tourism’s sustainable growth potential demands bold, creative and tenacious state, regional and local leadership

Augusta, Maine (Thursday, August 12, 2010)—The Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) today announced the release of a new study Amenity Investments and Tourist Destination Development by Bowdoin College Professor of Economics David Vail. 

Dr. Vail writes, “Developing the untapped potential of Maine’s lesser known tourism destinations requires a well-crafted investment strategy and long-term commitment over many years from people – in government, private enterprise, public interest organizations, and the philanthropic community – who share a vision of sustainable rural prosperity.  Ultimately, all Mainers will benefit from more appealing rural tourism destinations and a thriving rural tourism economy.”

Dr. Vail’s study employs interviews and a stakeholder survey to examine the strengths, weaknesses, growth opportunities and critical investment needs of tourism destinations in Maine’s most rural counties. Based on case studies in Piscataquis, coastal Washington and northern Franklin counties, the report recommends cost-effective policies, particularly at the state level, to realize the destination potential of these rural areas.

Stakeholders in all three regions prioritize improved road maintenance, high speed internet service, downtown beautification, arts and heritage attractions, and “green infrastructures,” such as scenic byways and interpretive signage. There is also widespread support for small business outreach and employee training to bring the quality of customer service up to the standard of excellence demanded by “experiential tourists.”

“David Vail has done more than any other economist to examine the obstacles and opportunities expanded tourism holds for Maine, especially the ‘hidden gems’ to be found in Maine’s most rural counties,” said Alison A. Hagerstrom, Executive Director, Greater Franklin Development Corporation.

“The study’s proposal for a five year, $100 million state investment in transportation, communications and other infrastructure is a bold vision for tourism to provide an essential development component in the economic growth needs of Maine’s most rural counties,” added Judy East, Executive Director, Washington County Council of Governments.

As Maine’s leading nonprofit research and policy development organization, MECEP has devoted particular attention to the challenges of spreading prosperity to areas of the State that have not shared the economic gains experienced by Maine’s south coastal regions. Professor Vail is co-director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy project, Spreading Prosperity to All of Maine.  He has also served on the Maine Governor’s Steering Committee on Natural Resource-based Industries, the Maine House Speaker’s Tax Reform Advisory Committee, and the University of Maine’s Tourism Advisory Committee.

The full report and a condensed version of “Amenity Investments and Tourist Destination Development,” published in the MECEP Choices series, are available online