It’s National Travel and Tourism week as I sit and write this. The first full week of May is annually recognized as National Travel and Tourism Week, a tradition first celebrated in 1984. Localized events are presented in cities, states and travel businesses nationwide to champion the power of travel. It was established as National Tourism Week when the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1983 designating the week to be celebrated in May. In a White House ceremony, President Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Proclamation urging citizens to observe the week with “the appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
In Maine (and especially along the coast) tourism is the largest industry in terms of both employment and revenue. It forms a large part of our tax base (both income and property); it helps sustain a range of offerings (from first class dining to ships that are national historic landmarks) that you wouldn’t ordinarily find in towns of 2,000 to 5,000 people; it helps preserve special places and the quality of our environment; and despite the occasional tensions that arise when we share our communities with visitors it’s an incredibly benign industry predicated on people relaxing and having fun.
And yet like the residents of many popular travel destinations- from New York to Nome- we sometimes have an ambivalent relationship with our own popularity. I fully understand this sentiment (I come from a part of the UK that has its own deplorable dialect word for tourists that roughly translates as ‘ants’) but I think we are missing a trick if we think of our popularity as a burden rather than both a vote of confidence and an incredible asset.
We are very blessed in the Midcoast to live in towns that attract tourists rather than tourist towns. A subtle distinction perhaps but an important one, as the wonderful natural and community assets that make life such a joy in these parts serve as the means to import money from outside our immediate communities without having to make too many concessions to seasonality. At the same time, the broader focus and diversity of our economy means that we all get to enjoy the ice cream and sunshine without all being dependent on both for a living.
Tourism then is an important element in our economic mix that spreads our risk and increases our prosperity while making people happy: sure beats uranium mining or industrial hog butchery, if you ask me. So this National Travel & Tourism week take some time to say thanks to all who work in one of Maine’s industries for all they do to build memories, preserve special places, and drive the economy.