Fortifying Maine Woods Tourism resilience

Published on : Friday, April 12, 2019

In a previous OpEd, I illustrated three “shocks” demanding Maine tourism’s resilience: shifting climate, changing general economic conditions and changing global markets. Some conflicts are inescapable, like warming winters, as others are unsure, like one more stern financial recession. Some shocks will have negative effects for Maine, like less reliable snow cover, as others may be beneficial, like climate disruptions at competing destinations.


Smart stakeholders and policy makers expect that shocks and act to fortify “shock absorbers.” Two Maine Woods efforts are adjusting to — and making the most of — major changes: Northern Outdoors, a leading outfitter, is reacting to changing tourist markets by launching ground-breaking new products; the Moosehead Lake Branding Initiative is re-inventing a venerable destination to match 21st century preferences.


In white water rafting and snowmobiling for four decades, the Northern Outdoors (NO), based at The Forks on the Kennebec, has been a leader. Russell Walters, NO’s president since 2000, observed that the two main drivers of the business began to stagnate starting around 1998.


“We came to realize we weren’t just an outdoor business, but rather part of the larger hospitality sector,” Walters said.


Northern Outdoors’ resilience plan centers on three connected innovations: upgrading rafting and snowmobiling experiences with better facilities, expanding to ventures targeting niche markets and rising marketing sophistication. The clear trend is toward guests looking for genuine outdoor thrills without having to rough it. From millennials to boomers, Northern Outdoors’ serves to such likings with its own craft brewery, widespread dining options, a big outdoor hot tub, live music and — of course — Wi-Fi.


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