Maine’s Sustainable Tourism Economy

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Greg Dugal President and CEO of the Maine Innkeepers Association and Maine Restaurant Association photo by Kay MannOn June 8, 2016, the Environment and Energy Technology Council (E2Tech) hosted a forum entitled, “Sustainability in Maine's Tourism Industry”. The forum was intended to highlight some businesses’ innovative, sustainable management practices, from using solar and wind for hotel and inn’s energy needs, to serving sustainable fish in restaurants and conserving lands and forests. Green Energy Maine was there and brings you this report.

INTRODUCTION

Tourism revenue in Maine reached a record $5.65 billion in 2015, a 3.2% increase over the previous year, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. This had a total economic impact of more than $8 billion and 99,000 supported jobs. Since a clean environment is key to Maine’s tourism “brand,” more businesses are reducing energy and water use, generating less waste, increasing composting, using less toxic products and buying local food.

The first panelist to speak was Greg Dugal, President and CEO of the Maine Innkeepers Association and Maine Restaurant Association. Dugal elaborated on the economic impacts of Maine’s lodging industry with some statistics.

The average number of jobs per Maine hotel is 62 and the median size hotel has 12 rooms. There are 1400 lodging establishments in Maine and half of them have 12 rooms or less. They serve over 33 million visitors per year. Maine now boasts over 1 million restaurants employing over 14 million people. Restaurant revenues in 2015 were up 5.8%, to $2.51 billion.

Dugal listed the top 6 environmental trends in Maine’s 4,000 restaurants:
Serving natural/hormone-free food;
Informing guests where the food comes from;
Managing waste and conserving resources;
Supporting the ethical treatment of animals;
Deploying technologies that conserve and save resources and
Participation in the Maine farm to table program.

The top 6 environmental trends in hotels back in 2007 were:
Addressing rising energy costs;
Adopting LEED building practices;
Adapting to climate change;
Improving indoor air quality by offering allergen-free and scent-free spaces;
Starting sustainability programs and
Hosting “green meetings”.

The Environmental Leader Program was created by Peter Cooke at DEP and introduced at MEIA annual meeting in 2005. It had fair and reasonable rules for lodgers to qualify, and so it had dozens of participants and was featured on maineinns,com. Many participants took it to heart; they earned a “flag” by earning 100 points in the scoring system. Although the program has been compromised by the departure of Peter Cook from DEP, over 100 hotels are still participating. Duval highlighted two of the Environmental hotels: Maple Hill Farm Inn in Hallowell and the Haraseeket Inn in Freeport.

Rauni Kew Green Program Manager at the Inn by the Sea photo by Kay MannThe second speaker was Rauni Kew, Green Program Manager at the Inn by the Sea. She began by pointing out that travel and tourism make up 9.8% of global GDP. The 2 largest tourist economies are in China and the USA.

Trip Advisor and Travelocity did surveys that found that travelers preferred to visit “green” hotels and restaurants. A green tourism website that Travelocity started saw 65% more bookings than its regular site did.

A program called “Agenda 21” was a blueprint for sustainable travel that failed to resonate with travelers. The “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profits coined by John Elkington in the mid-1990’s) became a more understandable roadmap. The National Geographic Society came up with the term, “geotourism”, which brought home the idea of celebrating a little corner of the world and its unique characteristics.

At the Inn by the Sea, they created a punch list of sustainable design features that were included in a 2008 renovation; this earned them a LEED silver accreditation. Part of the guest experience is education about the indigenous garden plants, including a “Bug’s Life” educational program for children. For about 5 years, the inn has been serving some of the lesser known fishes from Casco Bay when traditional species became less numerous.

Tracy Michaud Stutzman Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Southern Maine photo by Kay MannThe third speaker of the forum was Tracy Michaud Stutzman, Lecturer in Tourism & Hospitality at the University of Southern Maine. Senator Edmund Muskie was an environmentalist who cared about civil rights and sustainability. The Muskie School at USM has the only hospitality degree-granting program in the state.

The hospitality curriculum includes tourism business management, ecological development and community planning, cultural involvement and sustainability. Students may choose among 6 different areas of concentration:
tourism creation and promotion;
managing in tourism and hospitality;
event planning, management and promotion;
tourism planning, debt and sustainability;
sport tourism and adventure tourism and
cultural and culinary tourism.

Certificates are offered in event management and tourism planning.

Students must go into the community and apply what they are learning in real-world enterprises. Michaud Stutzman outlined many examples of these. The program is looking for capstone projects to give student real-world internship experiences, such as local food tours, walking tours, etc. These are required for graduation. The arts industry is included; students are researching the economic impacts of the creative economy.

Jeff Pillet Shore Marketing Director for Allagash Brewing Company photo by Kay MannThe day’s final speaker also hosted the networking reception following the forum: Jeff Pillet-Shore, Marketing Director for Allagash Brewing Company.

Allagash was founded in 1995 and is now the 42nd largest craft brewery in the US. Two years ago, there were 2800 craft breweries in the US and now there are 4200. The core values that inspire the marketing and sustainability strategies for Allagash include: efficiency as the right thing to do, innovation, growth in a way they can be proud of and a passion for their product and its quality.

Allagash is installing solar panels this year at its brewery on Industrial Way. They also purchase renewable energy certificates to offset 100% of the electric power that they use. The company participates in national bike-to-work week, participates in trail cleanups and other community efforts. Another way the company gives back is by donating to the preservation of the Allagash River. Consumers look at the final product as having higher value because of all these measures.

The barley for the new “16 Counties” brew product is grown in Aroostook County. The farmers who grow it feel a personal involvement in the brew.

The company has found that some customers are coming on day trips from New York and further,  just for the Maine brew experience.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

Q. How do you engage people in the sustainability message?
Kew: You have to find a way to connect with the guests in a way that they find fun, and engage them in ways that they care about. Dual flush toilets are not a big hook. Staff retention is also better in sustainable businesses.
Pillet-Shore: It’s really about marketing and the value proposition that resonates with the customer. For example, our use of repurposed and recycled materials in the tasting room connects people to a sense of place.

Q: Our state faces a demographic cliff. Some employers offer to pay people to move here. There is a “Live and Work in Maine” program.
Dugal: Success breeds success. We need to work collaboratively between the industry and the school systems. We hope to export Portland’s successes all over the state.
Michaud Stutzman: Tourism is our biggest in-migration recruiter. We are a place that people fall in love with when they visit. There is a major connection to be built upon: we are authentic and local; this brings people here already and they want to stay.

Q: How do you build a system for operating beyond peak season values, through low usage periods?
Dugal: People are coming to Portland in the wintertime because we have created a welcoming environment; the highs and lows are becoming evened out.

Q: Have we been able leverage any federal funds for rural communities?
Michaud Stutzman: Yes. We have been able to get grants for help in transitioning from paper production to the arts and tourism economies. Among these projects is the Center for Maine Craft on the interstate in Gardiner. The town of Greenville on Moosehead Lake had rebranded and used both federal and state support to do so.

Image credit: all photos by Kay Mann.

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