ORONO — Bangor is having an identity crisis.
Looking at a map supplied by the Maine Office of Tourism on Friday, Karen Martin of the Maine Forest and Logging Museum was becoming perplexed. The state was divided into eight regions, and Bangor was situated right where three of them intersect.
Is Bangor part of the Katahdin, Moosehead and Penquis region? Or Down East-Acadia? How about the midcoast region?
“I didn’t know where I was,” Martin said after reviewing the map.
To Susan Potters of the Bangor arts community, Bangor is viewed as a gateway to all of the regions.
“Traditionally, Bangor is seen as a hinge between the coast and the mountains,” Potter said. “It’s seen as going north and south.”
Martin and Potter were two of more than 30 people who attended a meeting Friday morning at the Black Bear Inn in Orono, one of numerous sessions being held this week on the state’s tourism industry. Those gathered in Orono directed their complaints and ideas to Maine Office of Tourism representatives about how to spend advertising dollars and how to promote Bangor and the Katahdin, Moosehead and Penquis region.
The state this year spent $4.5 million on the Office of Tourism, and a good portion of that money went to advertising. Next year, the office will have $7 million to promote the state and its various regions.
Tourism officials are collecting suggestions and will incorporate them into a five-year strategic tourism marketing plan that will be available in January.
For some in attendance, the label of “Katahdin, Moosehead and Penquis region” is too cumbersome. Instead, they want the area to be called “The Maine Highlands.”
During the last two years, chambers of commerce throughout the region have met to come up with ways to promote the area to tourists. They received more than $160,000 in grants, and some of that money was used to pay an advertising consultant to help them coin a name for the region, said John Holden of the Eastern Maine Development Corp., who coordinated the promotion efforts.
The consultant advised the chambers and they, in turn, are asking the state tourism bureau to start using the new moniker — “The Maine Highlands.”
The area chambers intend to use the slogan, “The Maine Highlands: Natural Wonder. Endless Discovery,” in their marketing efforts, which will include publication of a visitors’ guide next year.
Although area chambers are doing what they can to promote the region, the state is falling short in actually getting tourists to visit, said Jack Quirk of Bangor, who owns a number of auto dealerships. Potential vacationers know of Maine as a “nice state,” but “we just don’t seem to be on their list as a destination.”
Michael Galeucia, a senior consultant with an accounting firm helping to coordinate the meeting, echoed Quirk’s comments. He said the state “generates leads,” but “we’re not doing a really good job getting them here.”
Many at Friday’s meeting said the state shouldn’t focus so much on regions, but on what the state as a whole has to offer year-round — and not just between May and October. The group said it would like more money spent on marketing what the state already has in place. Participants suggested promoting vacation packages that included snowmobiling, antiquing and visiting local museums.
“A lot of groups are doing this type of thing,” Holden said. “But nobody knows that they are going on.”