Hdon’t we have enough this year?
In Maine, this seems to be the question on everyone’s mind, given the events of the past week. Not only did Governor Janet Mills clash with the Republican Party of the state to ease COVID-19 restrictions on out-of-state visitors, but she also experienced her first deadly shark attack in recorded history. It has been a brutal year, especially for the state’s tourism and hospitality industry, but only the events of the past few days pose the question: can hotels, restaurants and small businesses that shape the “holiday country”
On the state’s official website on July 27, Governor Mills published a statement against a Republican initiative to ease quarantine restrictions for visitors to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Currently, visitors to Massachusetts and Rhode Island seeking to enter Maine must either self-quarantine for 14 days or provide documentation of a negative COVID test performed within 72 hours of entering the state, which is not required by visitors to New Hampshire, Vermont or the three-state area. Legislative Republicans from Maine are trying to ease these restrictions, largely because tourism dollars in Massachusetts are widely considered the bread and butter of the state’s highly seasonal tourism sector.
“For my life, I can’t understand why Republicans care more about Massachusetts money than the life of a Maine person,” said the governor’s statement, calling the Republican proposal a “Donald Trump-style assault on them. public health measures that have successfully protected the people of Maine. “
Justin Grimes, CEO of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection – which includes, among others, the Hidden Pond, The Kennebunkport Inn and Cape Arundel Inn & Resort resorts – is baffled by Governor Mills’ public protests. “It’s counterintuitive because there are so many people coming here from New York this summer, and many of them are going through Massachusetts, probably stopping in Massachusetts, and then continuing to Maine,” he said. “It’s a little shocking. It caused a lot of confusion. People are angry. Massachusetts residents seem to be spotted.”
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For Grimes, the Kennebunkport Resort Collection’s business is down 60%. He hopes that the restrictions of Massachusetts and Rhode Island can be alleviated in time for the Christmas Prelude to the city of Kennebunkport, the two weekends following Thanksgiving, which is historically the highest grossing weekend of the year for his hotels. “We generally run out a year early and all our restaurants have hit record numbers,” he said. “I worry without that pinch of revenue, you’ll see other businesses closed permanently.”
Abigail Carroll, owner of the 6.8-acre Nonesuch Oysters farm in Scarborough, approaches this summer with a distinctive sense of Maine endurance. In his line of work, after all, adaptability is essential. “COVID is nothing for a farmer,” he said. “Seven months before COVID we have lost much of the summer due to the red tide. It seems that every year we have something, whether it is bad algae, extinct from winter ice … Actually, this year we got some money in PPP and for once it was a great break “.
Asked about last week’s abnormal shark attack and if she worried about how this could affect her operations – which by definition required her to be in the water to cure oyster beds – Carroll looked almost perplexed. “The waters are heating up, there is no way to avoid it. Climate change is happening,” he said. It’s almost like an influx of great whites is the least of his problems at this point. “My existential anguish is what will happen in the fall.”
Along with countless other oysters, farmers and fishermen up and down the Maine coast, Carroll has been able to maintain normalcy – to a certain extent – thanks to outdoor dining. “Based on my orders, it’s almost like Kennebunkport is a little alive and well,” he said. “The million dollar question is what will happen in the fall. We are looking to increase ours [e-commerce] domestic orders, but there are large variables and large unknowns. “
Others in the area are more optimistic. At White Barn Inn, Auberge Resorts Collection in Kennebunk, general manager Daniel Braun shared that August 2019 was a very positive month for sales and that August 2020 is well on its way to exceeding it by 15 percent. While there have been fewer visitors from Massachusetts, the property has experienced a “sharp increase among New York and tri-state visitors.” The property’s range of barns and cottages, many with private entrances, lends itself to privacy and reduced contact between guests. Braun attributes the successful summer of the White Barn Inn to a recent refurbishment throughout the property, the addition of an informal Little Barn restaurant so that guests do not have to leave the property for meals, as well as an expanded restaurant service at poolside. It has been such a popular summer for the property that not even the shark attack has discouraged guests. “It didn’t seem to stop people from visiting the beach and enjoying the water,” said Braun. “It was a really rare and unexpected accident.”
Indeed, last week’s shark attack was a relative sign in a year of rare and unexpected accidents. But wherever companies fall on the spectrum between disaster and normalcy this summer, the general sense is that the real test will come this fall
This is when a second wave of COVID-19 cases should coincide with the flu season. Additionally, a drop in temperature means fewer visitors out of the state and a death bell for outdoor dining that has saved so many state restaurants. Until then, the Mainers will have to wait for any fresh hell that these last weeks of summer 2020 make their way.