I’m not one of those Mainers who hates tourists. Sure, most of them are odious, reptilian blowhards, but that makes it all the more fun to instruct them in the proper way to eat a steamed lobster.
“You have to be really careful,” I tell them. “There’s a poison stinger in each claw, so leave those alone. And there’s another one in the tail, so don’t touch that. Just carefully break off the antennas, and dip them in melted butter. Now, suck real hard. Isn’t that delicious?”
In spite of my little amusement, I’m proud to do my part to soak the tourists for every penny they’ve got. I recognize that these visitors are a vital segment of our economy, supporting more than 94,000 jobs, mostly low-pay, seasonal or part-time scut work.
And if the zombie apocalypse should actually happen, we can eat people from away first. I’ve heard that dipped in butter, they taste like lobster.
No, my problem with tourism isn’t those obnoxious sacks of sewer sludge driving cars that cost more than my house. My problem is the way we sell this state to them.
According to Maine’s tourism marketing plan developed by high-priced consultants (who, I’m told, also taste like lobster, which isn’t surprising since both are scavengers), we should target our advertising to attract three groups of consumers. These groups are identified by the marketing experts as “balanced achievers,” “genuine originals” and “social sophisticates.” All these rubes appear gullible enough to fall for the poison lobster gag.
Balanced achievers are rich people with families. They like arts and culture, but what they really want out of their vacations is to return home with stories about how they went someplace they’d read about in the New York Times and had a great adventure during which some weird, native Mainer saved them from being stung to death by outlaw lobsters.
Basically, these are your obnoxious in-laws.
Genuine originals are even richer people, who are really bored with their lives, so they engage in all sorts of rugged outdoor activities in a desperate attempt to find meaning in their pointless existences. They’ll pay well to have their photo taken patting a bear cub, harassing a moose or climbing Katahdin during a blizzard, because they’re big into authentic (by which I mean stupid) experiences.
Sort of a cross between Richard Branson and biker gangs in Waco.
Social sophisticates are richer still. Not for them is the funky seafood shack, the rowdy beer hall or the rugged mountain trail. They want luxury and plenty of it. They care not if a concierge and several lobster shuckers had to sacrifice their lives in the preparation of their dinners, so long as they are pampered to excess. Lousy tippers, too.
The Kardashians come to mind.
The tourism office is currently in the second year of a five-year plan designed to attract more of these freakazoids to our state. The cost to taxpayers of getting a Maine visit on the bucket list of every wealthy, self-obsessed jerk on the East Coast comes to $10 million a year. But it’s totally worth it, according to what Carolann Ouellette, director of the Office of Tourism, is reported to have said at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism in March.
“Segmentation is something really big brands have been doing for a while,” Ouellette told attendees. “To really be able to pick the people we know are highest-value visitors, to be able to get to them more specifically with messages that resonate, is really going to help, honestly, with a better [return on investment] in the long run.”
I thought segmentation had something to do with centipedes. And we already have plenty of those. Although come to think of it, anybody willing to eat something as ugly as a lobster might be convinced to try baked, stuffed centipede in a reduced earwig sauce. Getting the pests to eat the pests might be worth 10 million bucks.
The truth is the money spent to promote tourism represents another form of corporate welfare. The state is paying for advertising for hotels, restaurants and amusement parks. Proprietors of these businesses will argue that they underwrite this effort through the meals and lodging tax, but that’s false reasoning. We all pay taxes, but those of us who aren’t part of the tourism industry don’t get that money dedicated to covering our personal expenses.
Because if we did, I’d be taking my share in lobsters.
Speedos. Sandals with black socks. Yankees caps. Share your tourist horror stories by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.