Leaders from the business, municipal, and non-profit sectors in Maine’s Rangeley Lakes region came together in May to build skills and local team capacity to advance community revitalization goals through the second-ever Community Destination Academy.
Developed by the Maine Office of Tourism and the Northern Forest Center through their collaboration in the Maine Woods Consortium, the Destination Academy provides local leadership cohorts with expert-led destination development training on topics including “experience development,” marketing, fundraising, and working together as a team. Based on these Phase I learning experiences, program partners provide technical and financial assistance to support implementation of a shared project identified by CDA participants.
“The Rangeley region is rich with exceptional natural resources, a long heritage of fishing, guiding and utilizing those resources for business and pleasure,” said Donna Moreland, destination development specialist for the Maine Office of Tourism. “The Community Destination Academy helps local business and community leaders create new compelling experiences that generate increased visitor spending and economic value by delivering deeper, richer, more immersive involvement with the place and the culture.”
The Rangeley CDA was grounded in a framework developed by the Maine Woods Consortium in 2018 that points to a strategic pathway for generating new economic activity in high potential rural destination areas through an increasing focus on new and emerging markets, and investment in both high touch and high service experiences.
From that grounding point, CDA workshops were guided by input from two nationally recognized destination and experience development experts.
David Beurle from Future iQ provided an in-depth analysis of future demographic trends, travel patterns, and activities that are likely to drive tourism over the next 5, 10, and 15 years. The Maine Woods Consortium recently released two reports (LINK) prepared by Future IQ outlining the $5.6 billion destination development opportunity in the Maine Woods.
Building off Beurle’s presentation, Joe Veneto of the Veneto Collaboratory, shared his blueprint for creating immersive visitor experiences that generate an emotional connection to a place and drive return visits and word of mouth referrals – and can even motivate visitors to become seasonal or year-round residents.
"Rangeley offers a multitude of sites and activities for visitors seeking authentic outdoor and cultural experiences, but we currently, lack the organization to properly market these options,” said Travis Ferland, owner of the Rangeley Inn. “A thoughtfully developed system will organize these offerings in a highly customizable manner, making it easier for first-time visitors to understand their options while increasing the likelihood they will choose the Rangeley Lakes Region for their new adventures."
Based on these inputs and their local vision and commitment to outdoor recreation and conservation as long-term community economic drivers, Rangeley CDA participants decided to take a systems approach advancing local destination development by “activating the Rangeley area tourism ecosystem to create new, marketable visitor experiences.”
“We believe that active, outdoor lifestyles on accessible lands can build healthy people and communities, a stronger conservation ethic and a greater economic future,” said David Miller, executive director of the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust. “These elements, integrated in a small, rural community in Western Maine, can launch a virtuous cycle that leads to long-lasting change.”
Beginning in June, the Center and Maine Office of Tourism will support a local CDA working group to develop a set of new immersive experiences that can be tested in the local visitor marketplace by late summer or early fall. Working concepts include multi-model outdoor recreation and education experiences, family “ecoventures,” and immersive conservation or citizen science experiences. Criteria guiding new experience development will include: connecting existing assets; providing high service levels; aligning with emerging markets; and addressing sustainability.
“The Rangeley Lakes have long been a travel and vacation destination,” said Mike Wilson, senior program director for the Northern Forest Center. “Like other areas, though, they need to continually update the experiences they provide in order to drive visitation and spending in a changing global economy. That’s what the Destination Academy experience is all about.”
Destination Academy participants will re-convene this fall to evaluate their progress and work on the projects described above. They will also plan their next steps and decide if they need additional skills training to continue building the framework for increased destination development opportunities in Rangeley.
Funding for Destination Academy is provided by the Maine Office of Tourism through a partnership between the Maine Woods Consortium and Northern Forest Center. The Maine Woods Consortium is coordinated by the Center and includes non-profits, businesses, and state agencies working together to advance rural economic development in the Maine Woods.