Things heated up in Portland but the competition was great for everyone!
March 1, 2016
On June 1, 2013 the Bangor daily News ran a story on the new tours in Portland and the growth Portland was seeing. Check out the article below.
Guides say Portland’s tour wars good for business
Want to catch lobsters? Dine in the city’s trendy eateries? Be scared by ghost stories?
This spring there are more specialty tours to show visitors around Maine’s largest city than ever before. But instead of spreading the tourism dollars too thin, the eclectic array of choices means more business for everyone.
“Are they detracting from one another? I think they actually encourage people to take more tours,” said Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are upward of 7 million people who come into this region [annually], so I think we’ve got enough [tourists] to sustain them for sure.”
Keith Nuki, who operates Portland Fire Engine Co. Tours out of a 1971 firetruck retrofitted with a multimedia display screen to show historic images of the city, agrees.
“Portland has really come into its own over the last two or three years,” Nuki said. “I’m the kind of philosopher that says if you build a McDonald’s, people will come, and if you build another burger joint next door, both places will do well. The more great things to do in downtown Portland, the better.”
When Pamela Laskey moved to Portland from Boston in 2008 and began considering opening her own tour business, she said she tried to avoid niches already carved out by tour companies in the city.
She discovered her corner of the market after her new neighbors welcomed her to town with treks to their favorite local baker, chocolatier and cheese purveyor. In 2009, Bon Appetit magazine named Portland “America’s Foodiest Small Town” and Laskey, a former Northeastern University faculty member, launched her first full season of Maine Foodie Tours.
“When I came into this market I did a lot of research about all of the great tours already here,” she said. “I didn’t want to compete with them. … I went around to everybody else’s tour and made a script that would be unique. I didn’t want to step on anybody else’s toes.”
In Portland, tour operators focus on their specialties and are happy to steer customers to other tours, said Laskey. Even with mounting competition for tourists’ time, and dollars, Laskey has done well enough to add new tours. A pub crawl, desserts first, and trolley tour roll out this summer.
Tourism officials say the market is not oversaturated, yet.
“If you have four foodie tours in one city? That may be too many. If you had four trolley tours in one city? That may be too many. But we have one foodie, one trolley, one ghost tour. They’ve all really found their niche,” Whitten said. “I do think that tourists will take advantage of these kinds of things. I don’t think there’s too many.”
At least one exception to that rule is the city’s growing beer tours — the Maine Brew Bus and Maine Beer Tours in addition to Laskey’s pub crawl.
Derek Meader — a tour guide with Capt. Joe Stanley’s Downeast Duck Adventures, Maine’s only amphibious duck boat — said with Portland’s growing cruise ship business, his tours stay full deeper into the fall than ever before.
“We’ve got tour boats and whale boats and trolleys — I think the more folks we have here doing different things, the more people we’ll bring in,” Stanley said.
While no official master list of tours has been published, Portland’s Downtown District lists nearly 30, ranging from self-guided tours to Casco Bay cruises to narrated rides around Portland’s historic streets.
Merchants aren’t complaining.
Local stores, entertainment venues and attractions benefit from the explosion in specialty tours, Whitten said. They give visitors ideas about where to shop and places to explore.
“We get so much great feedback from the tours,” said Heidi Stanwick, co-owner of Commercial Street spice and condiment shop Vervacious, the first stop on Laskey’s foodie tour. “It allows us to tell our story to people who wouldn’t necessarily have heard it otherwise.”
Dr. Norma Asprec of New York City said after finishing a Thursday afternoon duck tour, which rolled past the historic buildings and statues of Congress Street before turning toward the East End and splashing into Casco Bay, she was ready to explore the spots first hand.
“It’s a beautiful way to see the town,” said Asprec.
“I think a lot of the tourists are looking for something unique to do nowadays,” said Nuki of the Portland Fire Engine Co. tours. “With all the different tours here now, they can find almost anything in Portland.”