CONCORD, N.H. — A new winter campaign and preparations for New Hampshire's turn at hosting a regional meeting to attract overseas tourists are some of the new director's responsibilities at the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development.
Lori Harnois, 33, of Epsom took over the job last month, succeeding Alice DeSouza, who retired in July. In her first interview since she became director, Harnois said Tuesday the state is partnering with Ski New Hampshire to put up a new website that will feature activities on and off the slopes.
The site, winternh.com, will have a 12-week photo contest and name a winner each week. Prizes will include free ski tickets. A campaign promoting the site will start Jan. 3.
In April, New Hampshire is hosting an annual summit for Portsmouth-based Discover New England, a regional marketing group formed to increase visitors from overseas. Harnois said the convention will bring in several hundred people, including at least 60 international tour operators interested in packaging New England to consumers overseas.
"Most people overseas think of New England as a state and New Hampshire as just kind of a city within the state," said Harnois, an 11-year veteran of the division who most recently supervised international and domestic marketing.
She said one of her goals is to get international visitors to New Hampshire to spend a more time in the state, even if it's just a day, and have them take nontraditional routes to see different areas.
"New England is really seen as a second-tier international destination," Harnois said. "Most of the people overseas will come to America, and their first stop is either Florida, Las Vegas, California, New York."
The region, including New Hampshire, tends to draw a more mature, travel-savvy visitor from overseas during the fall foliage season for that second visit, more families during the summer, and students and younger visitors during the ski season, she said.
The international travelers are important because they're not weather-dependent, tend to stay longer, spend more money, and fill hotel rooms during the midweek, she said.
Canada is still New Hampshire's primary market for international tourists. The state also has promoted itself heavily in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany. It has partnered with neighboring states for marketing efforts in France and Japan to make the most of the 10 percent allotted to international promotions in its $6.5 million budget — one of the lowest tourism department budgets in the nation.
In spite of the limited dollars, tourism is one of the state's largest industries. Travel spending in fiscal year 2009 provided about 62,500 full and part-time jobs. Visitors paid $136.4 million in meals and room taxes and tourism generated $4.2 billion.
Another item on Harnois' "to do" list is to review the results of a survey released this year of Northeast consumers and tourism and travel officials in New Hampshire. The survey found that unlike Maine lobsters and Vermont maple syrup, New Hampshire doesn't have a distinct icon.
"Once we figure out really where our strengths are ... then that's when our ad agency would work with us to come up with some potential ideas for such a brand, and that would need to be tested on groups of visitors to see just how they take to it," Harnois said.
Harnois said she hopes to put out a status report to industry members on a strategy by late winter.