April 2, 2023

Marketing Maine's Outdoor Economy – Once Again

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George Smith, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, is once again preaching his message to Mainers about the need to market the resources of hunting and fishing in Maine. He says that Maine is striving for mediocrity and missing the boat when it comes to strengthing the economy. *previous story about marketing Maine’s outdoors*
In an article that appears this morning in the Morning Sentinel, Smith lays out economic facts and figures and compares trends in Maine with other states with comparable marketability. Let’s look at figures he presents from a study done 10 years ago. *this link will take you to that study done in 1999*

Ten years ago, a University of Maine study reported that hunting, fishing and wildlife watching produced nearly $1.5 billion in economic output, supported 17,680 jobs and generated $67.7 million in state income and sales taxes — in addition to revenue from hunting and fishing licenses. This was almost 5 percent of the Maine economy at the time.

Smith goes on to declare the opportunities that exist in Maine for the hunter – turkey, deer, bear, waterfowl, grouse, moose, etc., but says that Maine is missing out on the opportunity to take advantage of a nationwide trend that shows a growing hunting economy.

Unfortunately, despite these opportunities, Maine is not participating in the national growth in the hunting economy.

He then tells of how Maine, unlike other states, has seen a steady decline in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses to Maine residence, since 1992. For non-residence, fishing licenses have declined and hunting held steady since 1992.

We do almost no marketing of hunting and fishing in Maine. We invest almost nothing in the resources that deliver our outdoor economy.

Here is a good comparison: Colorado stocks about 60 million fish each year, including 14 million catchable-size rainbow trout. Maine stocks about 1.5 million fish. Where would you go if you had limited time and really wanted to catch fish?

Smith makes some other comparisons which seem to make sense but then, from my perspective, he hits the nail squarely on the head. I have spouted off about this same aspect of Maine’s faultering tourism business. Let’s face it, the truth is Maine’s tourism industry depends heavily on hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. No one can dispute that. Here’s what Smith said.

But this state does not get it. At the invitation of the owner, my wife and I visited an Alaskan lodge two years ago — to fish for silver salmon and rainbow trout. The lodge charges $6,500 a week per person and gets it because they have gorgeous rivers full of really big fish. No place in Maine can command that kind of money — but we have equally magnificent rivers. We just do not have the big fish because we manage for mediocrity.

What I would have to add to Smith’s analogy is that Maine has managed for mediocrity for far too long in more areas than just marketing its outdoor resources. Maine does not fully understand the marketing potential of their outdoors because they are not aware of the rest of the world or doesn’t want to be a part of it. I think the proper term to describe much of what it does is called provencial. Maine is quite isolated from the rest of the United States and often times prides itself on being that way. They don’t want anyone else to share in their experience.

The choice is really that of the Maine people. I agree with George Smith that there is an opportunity that sits ripe on the tree for the picking if Maine people want it. If they do, there is a lot of work to be done but as the saying goes, you got to start somewhere. If Mainers choose to remain status quo, then that’s the way it will be and we will all continue to struggle, always trying to find an extra penny here and an exra penny there.

Smith tells of seeing a bumper sticker on a car in Augusta the other day that read, “If this is the tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” Having been actively involved in Maine’s tourism and hospitality business for several years, I can assure you I have seen many bumper stickers emitting the same message and heard more than my share of comments about those who contribute huge sums of dollars to Maine’s economy each year. Do Maine’s residents fully understand and appreciate what this does for them?
Often times these bumper stickers are good for a laugh and we can’t lose our sense of humor but from my experiences, I have seen and heard enough to know that it is not all fun and games.

Smith finishes his article with the following that I believe pretty much sums up my feelings as well as his thoughts.

Maine has a traditional outdoor economy that relies on resources that have been served and neglected by conservation agencies that have been underfunded.

That outdoor economy is being lost to competition that understands that a combination of natural-resource investments and good marketing can deliver big bucks to their economies.

Tom Remington