By Christopher W. Pinkham
Last Sunday I sat at the traffic light that welcomes visitors to Freeport thinking that the turning RV and trailing Jeep would certainly take out the light pole, the Keep Right sign, or at least, my left front fender.
No, all 150 feet – or so it seemed – managed the corner and headed for a parking space near Bean World. The summer ritual has begun and, frankly, our economy never looked better because of those tourists.
Unfortunately, we seem to have a love/hate relationship with our visitors and, I think, we all need to rethink that message.
Our Legislature has wrestled with levying seasonal tolls, increasing the taxes on seasonal properties and having a summer sales tax increase, all in the name of “taking more from the visitors,” to benefit those who last through the Maine winters.
HOLD THE PHONE! Is this really the correct path for balancing our state budget? Isn’t this really a scheme to enhance our state’s revenues? Doesn’t this establish a faulty plan like a general sales tax increase or expanding the sales tax to entertainment and services? That is, in good times we have ample funding and in tough times, the revenues disappear. Plus, what about those increased costs as a sound bite next to the “promote tourism” message?
Time for a moment of reflection. Tourism is the lifeblood of many regions in our state as it brings people and their money from away. Seasonal employment, retail stores, restaurants and lodging are all beneficiaries; plus, we spend millions promoting tourism. Remember, we don’t want the logo changed to, “Maine the Way Life Should’ve Been!”
So, here’s one vote for understanding that tourism is a vibrant and profitable industry, and a second vote for “let’s not send the wrong message” – that we make fun of tourists and want to surcharge them for visiting.
Self-Promotion Vacationland message number two: We should all become Maine tourists. When our children were toddlers, my wife organized a vacation policy that promoted tourism. Each summer we were to pick another region of our state, rent something and explore that region. Kid activities shortened the run of trips, but for five summers, Islesboro, Mooselookmeguntic, Parker Pond, Monhegan and Bar Harbor all received some Pinkham cash.
How about everybody in our state take one trip in 2004? Couple of nights, camping or four-star resort is not important. Enjoy the scenery, plus it’s good for your family health and good for the Maine economy. Hey, it's Vacationland!
Christopher W. Pinkham is president of the Maine Association of Community Banks.