In one of the most profound changes ever instituted by state government, officials in Augusta recently announced they’d redefined the word “tourist.”
Under the old meaning, as detailed in pages 1243 through 1456 of the Official Maine Governmental Dictionary of Advanced Jargon, Specialized Gibberish, and Institutional Terms of Art Employed Just To Drive Ordinary People Batty, a tourist was somebody who dressed funny and ordered steamed lobsters in restaurants even though he or she had no clue how to eat them and no idea how much of a mess they were going to make of his or her funny-looking clothes. Tourists were people who couldn’t wait to shop in Freeport for a lot of stuff they could have bought cheaper back wherever they came from. Tourists looked forward to driving over to Boothbay Harbor in the Fourth of July traffic jam. Tourists wanted directions to Stephen King’s house in Castle Rock.
In short, tourists were idiots. Every year, we soaked them to the tune of over $13 billion for tacky souvenirs, cheesy accommodations, and authenticated copies of George W. Bush’s drunk-driving-arrest record. They went home happy. We stayed here with enough money to make it through another winter.
Now, that’s all changed.
It turns out many of those people weren’t tourists at all. They were undercover agents from the Department of Homeland Security making sure al-Qaeda operatives weren’t slipping hake into the lobster bisque and substituting shark parts for scallops.
Sorry. I made that up.
What the State Planning Office actually discovered is that many people previously classified as tourists were, in fact, Mainers. Yes, they wore black over-the-calf stockings with sandals and Bermuda shorts. But their legal residence was Portland. Sure, they complained to management about being waited on by somebody with body piercings and tattoos. But they just drove over from Bangor. Not surprisingly, their kids got bored during their second hour at the rustic lodge deep in the woods and wanted to know where the nearest mall was. But their mailing address was Lewiston.
We have met the jerks, and they are us.
Aside from the chagrin Mainers must feel at discovering they’re as likely as anybody else to purchase Tim Sample DVDs, there are practical consequences to this redefinition. As it turns out, we aren’t making nearly as much money off tourists as we thought.
In part, that’s because, unlike tourists, Mainers buy those DVDs at yard sales for a buck apiece, instead of paying $12 at L.L. Bean. But mostly it’s because the planning office determined that the cash the state’s residents spend on ski tickets, whale-watching trips, and drunken Saturday nights in the Old Port is money they would have spent in Maine, even if they hadn’t decided to visit Sugarloaf, Ogunquit, or the Cumberland County Jail.
This recalculation reduces the annual take from out-of-staters by about 35 percent, according to figures from the Maine Office of Tourism (new motto: We Treat You Like a Local — Badly). Instead of swindling the rubes from Massachusetts and New York out of almost $14 billion in 2004, we took them for less than $9 billion. The rest of that money came from scams we pulled on ourselves. (“Hey, pal, I got bootleg Tim Sample videos here.”)