For the past several years, the state of New Hampshire has made a concerted effort to market its outdoor recreational opportunities to a widening net of visitors.
The advertising campaign has since extended beyond the New England states to the mid-Atlantic states and beyond and has made many a return on its investment.
In 2021, the state saw a record number of summer visitors ($4.4 million people who spent more than $2.1 billion), which broke the pre-pandemic summer record in 2019.
In terms of revenue generated, it’s been a windfall for the state, which reaps the meals and rooms tax, and for communities, which receive a portion of the tax and whose small businesses feel the boom during peak seasons.
But the if-you-market-it-they-will-come plan can come with a price, namely many people and overcrowding in popular spots as well as a burden on New Hampshire’s natural resources.
During an interview in July, Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Business and Economic Affairs Department (BEA), spoke of a new strategic tourism program aimed at easing that burden.
“We will be doing a new tourism strategic plan, which I think might have a slightly different flavor to it than the way we’ve traditionally done tourism strategy development,” he said. “We’re focusing on things like sustainability of resources, the natural resources, and problems of overuse that we see happening, particularly in areas like the Franconia Notch and the Appalachian Trail Head.
“There’s a lot of these big places that are really getting a lot of people and we need a tourism strategy that looks at how we want to protect our resources in the long term and still grow the industry,” he said. “That is an interesting plan and it will be coming.”
Involved in the state plan will be the BEA’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development.
“A critical issue facing the state is managing the crowds, but also the resources and the programs that the towns and others are providing,” said Caswell.
He cited mountain biking, an increasingly popular form of recreation, as an example.
Some places, like East Burke in Vermont, can become overrun on the weekends, but there are efforts to disperse the crowds, such as that through the Bike the Borderlands initiative, said Caswell.
The initiative encompasses parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Quebec and informs bikers of all communities and trails within the entire network, and by doing so, can have the effect of taking the burden off of any one community or area.
“It’s to try to brand a whole series of regional networks so that people see them as sort of the same thing and there’s a little more of a dispersement that goes on and everybody doesn’t go just to Littleton or just to Franconia or just up to Gorham,” said Caswell. “You’re going to get a similar experience in all of those places and you should try them all. It’s a very interesting experiment. There’s lessons to be learned there.”
An existing state program that rolled out in the last few years is Don’t Take New Hampshire For Granite, which encourages visitors and residents to respect others, respect people’s property and respect and preserve the natural environment, be understanding and flexible with plans, and to plan ahead.