I have a very important message to deliver to Maine candidates for public office, one that I hope they will keep in mind as they seek a position serving Maine’s people.

Tourism is the unsung hero of the Maine economy. But the industry seldom gets the credit or attention it deserves. To be fair, I may be a little biased since I’ve spent 30 years in the industry and currently am the CEO of the Maine Tourism Association. The facts about the tremendous impact tourism has on Maine’s people and economy, however, prove me right.

Now that we are in the thick of the campaign season with four gubernatorial candidates, 10 candidates for federal offices and numerous others running for the Legislature, it is the perfect time to remind them how important tourism is to Maine.

Tourism sustains 107,000 jobs in Maine, generates nearly $9 billion in sales and contributes $600 million in taxes with more than 36 million visitors choosing our state as a destination. By any measure, it is one of the largest industries in the state.

Despite these facts and tourism’s obvious importance, our industry isn’t viewed as a leader. Sadly, many of Maine’s traditional industries have disappeared or are struggling. However, Maine has been a travel destination for more than 100 years and the tourism market is growing. We don’t deserve to be thought of as just low-paying seasonal jobs. Tourism offers highly-skilled, professional careers, plus flexible and seasonal opportunities.

For example, here are salaries from one of our hotel and restaurant members. An executive chef earns $65,000; a dining room manager, $36,000; a sales associate, $61,000; executive housekeeper, $45,000; maintenance manager, $40,000; cooks, $36,000; food and beverage director, $70,00; and hotel general manager, $80,000.

Even for those who don’t spend their entire career in the industry, it has great benefits for those who start there. Nearly 40 percent of workers whose first job was in the travel industry reached an annual salary of more than $100,000, and one-third of Americans who started in travel earned a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Candidates universally talk about keeping our young people here in Maine. Yet, I have not heard of a single student who was encouraged to consider a career in tourism. This is despite the fact that tourism offers endless possibilities — one can work in an office, a professional kitchen, at a beach or in the mountains. People can start in an entry-level job and work their way up or earn a college degree in dozens of related fields. And it can be done by staying here in Maine.

Additionally, tourism businesses contribute to local economy. As an example, one business spends $407,000 with local farmers, $375,000 with local fish markets and $260,000 locally for wine and liquor. Another business spends $23,000 on firewood, $76,000 with local contractors, $14,000 on printing and $23,000 on groundskeeping. Most of our member businesses invest about 10 percent of revenue in improvements each year. This means local workers, services and products are being used, benefitting multiple non-tourism businesses in their community.

Candidates ought to keep us in mind as they step up to serve Maine. We are their friends and neighbors. We are employers and employees. We are large and small operations. We create jobs and we generate revenue. We are hotels, restaurants, retail, camps, campgrounds, attractions, and tours and guide services. All together we make up Maine’s tourism industry, and we are too important to forget.

Chris Fogg is the CEO of the Maine Tourism Association.