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ANNUAL REPORT

2021

The Year of the Industry’s Gradual Restart

As 2021 began, CruiseMaine’s Cruise Restart Task Force accelerated its work of preparing for the potential return of ships and passengers. When Canada’s Minister of Transport announced an extension of the Canadian No Sail Order for the rest of year, it became clear that Maine would see no foreign-flag cruise visitation for a second season. Foreign-flag vessels account for approximately 97% of cruise passengers visiting the state, so the economic losses were felt acutely by many Maine-based businesses. Fortunately, Maine also gets cruise visitation from U.S.-flag ships, so the Task Force quickly refocused its efforts on working with our longtime domestic cruise partner, American Cruise Lines.

American Cruise Lines
A Closer Look

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For over 20 years, American Cruise Lines ships have been a familiar site along the coast of Maine throughout the summer and early fall, but 2021 was a year when many Maine communities learned the significance of those vessels being U.S.-flagged.

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    What does it mean to be a U.S.-flag cruise ship? According to the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act, it means “a vessel that is built in, documented under the laws of, and owned by citizens of the United States”. Meeting these three requirements allows a vessel to transport passengers between U.S. ports without any requirement to call on a foreign port.

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American Cruise Lines operates its small, domestic ships in 16 states across the east coast, the Pacific Northwest, and the Mississippi River region. Current offerings that include Maine are a Greater New England itinerary on the American Constitution that called on 4 Maine ports in 2021 and an all-Maine itinerary on the Independence that visited 8 ports from Portland to Bar Harbor.

The Work of CruiseMaine’s Cruise Restart Task Force

In a normal year, cruise operations involve the collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, municipal and private port operators, maritime service providers, and many shoreside vendors, tours operators, attractions, shops and restaurants. But for an industry that had been shut down for the better part of a year, that collaboration became more important than ever.

CruiseMaine engaged the services of a cruise safety consultant, Ioannis Bras, to help develop a robust plan that included:

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Shoreside contingency plans for each port

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Safety protocols & 
a communications plan

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Covid Response Action Plan for any potential or confirmed cases of COVID-19

The end result was a plan that prioritized the safety of passengers, crew and the public, both onboard and ashore. Following careful review and input from the Maine CDC, Governor Mills approved the restart of small, domestic cruising in Maine, and the Independence began its season on May 23rd, with an all-Maine itinerary calling on eight ports from Portland to Bar Harbor, and American Constitution began its season on June 14th, calling on four Maine ports as part of its Greater New England itinerary.

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2021 BY THE NUMBERS

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We had put all our employees on unemployment as soon as the shutdown happened, and then within two weeks, had them all back. Part of that is we were classified as a food business, so we fell under essential. I’m not sure how essential gourmet popcorn is, but we were grateful we were able to bring our employees back, and we just used the whole store for packing online orders. We had no choice. If we were going to make it, we needed to do something. 

 

Q: I see why you and your husband have succeeded with Coastal Maine Popcorn. You are resourceful and able to adapt, and that helped you make it through 2020 and will help you make it through whatever challenges come next. Let’s turn to the role of cruise passengers in Boothbay Harbor? What do they add for the town and more specifically, for your business? 

I’ve always loved seeing the cruise passengers come into town. I remember back in 2019, I was volunteering for our local Chamber of Commerce, and we were down there at the dock, handing out shopping guides and maps. They’d get off those little tender boats and just be really happy to be here. Seeing them come back in 2021 was such a happy day, because I know a lot of those people are seeing Boothbay Harbor for the first time. And you know, they get see the coast of Maine in a way that many of us never do and they are truly in awe of what we have here. 

 

In my shop, cruise passengers are so fun to talk to because they are from all over. You can easily spot them because they have their name badges around their neck, so I always ask where they are from. They love the towns in Maine, and they’re truly happy to be here. And we’ve learned how to serve them. Sometimes they don’t feel like they have enough space to bring our popcorn home with them so we hand out coupon cards that they can use to order it when they get home. 

 

Do you have any favorite stories of meeting a cruise passenger from the 2021 season? 

My favorite part of the job is to be an ambassador for our town. Sometimes I hand off scooping up the popcorn to one of our staff just so I can go talk to people.

 

One couple I remember seeing, just strolling down the street together with a couple of shopping bags. They were in awe of the quaintness of Boothbay Harbor, and just the chance to see a small fishing village that was also equipped to handle tourists. Speaking to those two was kind of like a hallmark movie: they asked, where do we go get coffee and a good pastry. I just remember how much they loved it, that whole Maine experience. 

 

We’ve also had people come into the shop and tell us they first came on a cruise ship, and they loved it so much that they went home, got family and friends together and planned to come back for a full vacation. I just love hearing that.

 

What do you hope for the future of Boothbay Harbor? 

I hope that we can maintain the balance we have between being a fishing village and a tourism town. I think that’s what is really special about this place, that is has both. 

 

There is also exciting talk about planning for a new post-secondary school that would deal heavily with the trades. We have so many wonderful resources here on this little peninsula: Bigelow Labs, Boothbay Botanical Gardens, several renowned boat builders. There are so many opportunities for kids who grow up around here, who might not want to go to a 4-year university, and we can equip them to go into a trade so they can stay. People who live on the Boothbay peninsula are kind of a different breed. They really like it here, they want to stay here. And the industries are here, so why not give those kids the tools to stay? I think it’s really the combination of all our industries that allows us to keep living down on this peninsula that we all love so much.

 

Ok, one last question: Do you have a favorite popcorn flavor right now?

 

Oh, I always have such a hard time with this question. It’s like choosing which is your favorite child. Let’s see…a couple that I am really loving right now are the Maine Blueberry Pancake and Loaded Baked Potato. But ask me again next week. It’s always changing. 

Business Profile 
Coastal Maine Popcorn

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But just like we’d done several times before with this business, we were able to put our blinker on and go in a different direction. 

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  • The biggest thing is that we were able to push the majority of our business online. Our foot traffic was down 35% for the year but we had record-breaking online sales in 2020. That really saved us.

  • And then for the store, we put everything in the front window so customers could see everything from the street and tell us what they wanted. 

  • I also called up Sysco and asked them how much toilet paper I could get, and we put together what we called Maine’s Best Quarantine Kit. It had 2 rolls of toilet paper, 2 hand sewn cloth masks, some alcohol wipes, and 2 chocolate chip cookies from a local bakery. We sold so many of those, it was really a surprise. 

We had put all our employees on unemployment as soon as the shutdown happened, and then within two weeks, had them all back. Part of that is we were classified as a food business, so we fell under essential. I’m not sure how essential gourmet popcorn is, but we were grateful we were able to bring our employees back, and we just used the whole store for packing online orders. We had no choice. If we were going to make it, we needed to do something. 

 

I see why you and your husband have succeeded with Coastal Maine Popcorn. You are resourceful and able to adapt, and that helped you make it through 2020 and will help you make it through whatever challenges come next. Let’s turn to the role of cruise passengers in Boothbay Harbor? What do they add for the town and more specifically, for your business? 

I’ve always loved seeing the cruise passengers come into town. I remember back in 2019, I was volunteering for our local Chamber of Commerce, and we were down there at the dock, handing out shopping guides and maps. They’d get off those little tender boats and just be really happy to be here. Seeing them come back in 2021 was such a happy day, because I know a lot of those people are seeing Boothbay Harbor for the first time. And you know, they get see the coast of Maine in a way that many of us never do and they are truly in awe of what we have here. 

In my shop, cruise passengers are so fun to talk to because they are from all over. You can easily spot them because they have their name badges around their neck, so I always ask where they are from. They love the towns in Maine, and they’re truly happy to be here. And we’ve learned how to serve them. Sometimes they don’t feel like they have enough space to bring our popcorn home with them so we hand out coupon cards that they can use to order it when they get home.  

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Do you have any favorite stories of meeting a cruise passenger from the 2021 season?

My favorite part of the job is to be an ambassador for our town. Sometimes I hand off scooping up the popcorn to one of our staff just so I can go talk to people.

 

One couple I remember seeing, just strolling down the street together with a couple of shopping bags. They were in awe of the quaintness of Boothbay Harbor, and just the chance to see a small fishing village that was also equipped to handle tourists. Speaking to those two was kind of like a hallmark movie: they asked, where do we go get coffee and a good pastry. I just remember how much they loved it, that whole Maine experience.

We’ve also had people come into the shop and tell us they first came on a cruise ship, and they loved it so much that they went home, got family and friends together and planned to come back for a full vacation. I just love hearing that.

What do you hope for the future of Boothbay Harbor? 

I hope that we can maintain the balance we have between being a fishing village and a tourism town. I think that’s what is really special about this place, that is has both.

 

There is also exciting talk about planning for a new post-secondary school that would deal heavily with the trades. We have so many wonderful resources here on this little peninsula: Bigelow Labs, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, several renowned boat builders. There are so many opportunities for kids who grow up around here, who might not want to go to a 4-year university, and we can equip them to go into a trade so they can stay. People who live on the Boothbay peninsula are kind of a different breed. They really like it here, they want to stay here. And the industries are here, so why not give those kids the tools to stay? I think it’s really the combination of all our industries that allows us to keep living down on this peninsula that we all love so much.

 

Ok, one last question: Do you have a favorite popcorn flavor right now?

Oh, I always have such a hard time with this question. It’s like choosing which is your favorite child. Let’s see…a couple that I am really loving right now are the Maine Blueberry Pancake and Loaded Baked Potato. But ask me again next week. It’s always changing.

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Interview with Julie Roberts, who owns Coastal Maine Popcorn with her husband Paul

 

How long have you lived in Boothbay Harbor? Tell us about the origin story for Coastal Maine Popcorn and what it has become now. 

I’ve lived in Boothbay Harbor my whole life, and my husband Paul and I started Coastal Maine Popcorn 14 years ago. We now manufacture and sell 40 flavors of gourmet popcorn and have 6 year round and an additional 10 seasonal employees. 

 

Congratulations! 14 years is an impressive feat for any small business, and then you add to it two plus years of a global pandemic, it’s even more impressive. Tell us about the experience of the running your business in 2020, when the pandemic was declared, and Maine ordered a shutdown of all non-essential businesses.  

It was a very scary time. I remember that the yearly trade show we always attend was canceled in early March, just a few days before we were set to leave for it. That’s when we knew it was really going to hit us too. So we all left work. We closed the shop and went down to the brewery next to us to have a drink. We were asking, ‘What is happening? What are we going to do?’ It was a super scary time. 

 

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Maine.PortCall.com Rollout

Beginning with the 2021 season, Maine’s entire, real-time cruise schedule became available to the public at Maine.PortCall.com. In addition to providing the most up-to-date schedule to everyone on a centralized website, the back end of the platform streamlines the booking process for port staff.  

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Cruise Canada New England Symposium

Portland was originally scheduled to host the annual CCNE Symposium in May of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the CCNE Alliance made the decision to postpone the Symposium until June 2022.

In late 2021, CruiseMaine began working closely again with the Cruise Portland Consortium with cautious optimism that the event will take place in 2022.

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Bar Harbor Cruise Ship
Committee work

As Executive Director of CruiseMaine, Sarah Flink continues to serve as a non-voting member of Bar Harbor’s Cruise Ship Committee. A significant amount of the committee’s work in 2021 was dedicated to advising the town council on ways to implement the results of a community survey conducted in the spring.

While discussions are ongoing, town officials continue to pursue a negotiating strategy with industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association.

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 Learning from Other Ports:
Juneau, Alaska

In August of 2021, Sarah Flink and Hannah Collins held very productive meetings with city officials and with the Tourism Best Management Practices group and in Juneau, AK. The work of both the city and the TBMP group can serve as models for ways to continue to improve cruise operations and destination management in Maine. CruiseMaine returned with a goal of sharing the successes of Juneau’s work and finding ways to adapt some of their methods to Maine’s ports.

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TBMP: With a mission to BE BETTER, this 26-year-old program has put together a constantly evolving set of operational guidelines gleaned from community surveys, a tourism hotline, public meetings and city officials input. Each year, members recommit to this voluntary program that seeks continuous improvement in the operations of all tourism-related business operations. The transparency of the tourism hotline has provided a mechanism to ensure effectiveness and to bolster public confidence through a non-regulatory approach to responsible tourism management.

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The City of Juneau: a 2019 Visitor Industry Task Force resulted in the city creating a new position for a Tourism Manager. This new role is charged with implementing the many recommendations that came out of the task force’s work.