Back in my innkeeping days, early May was the time for sprucing up the grounds of our B&B, planting pansies, trimming forsythia and mulching anything that wasn’t grass or asphalt.
The weeks before Memorial Day were when we made last minute repairs to guest rooms, scrubbed the scuff marks off the stairs, and washed our Victorian inn’s many windows until they sparkled. Spring was also the time when we took the bulk of our summer and fall reservations, when the ringing of the phone was a hopeful sound, because it meant someone was calling with a possible booking, and a deposit would soon be arriving in the mail.
As the crocuses bloomed, we kept our fingers crossed, hoping that our carefully placed advertisements in glossy tourism magazines would do their job. We lined up chambermaids to start work in June, and studied our reservation book several times a day, praying that the coming season would be at least as successful as the year before. After a lean winter, our family’s income depended on it.
In short, spring was stressful.
Imagine the scenario today for those in the hospitality business. The “normal” pressures that we experienced more than two decades ago are still there, compounded by a pandemic and a two-week quarantine period for visitors to the state, a measure that is meant to keep us safe, but that also seems certain to shut down summer tourism. Uncertainty – always a factor in running a small business – looms even larger as the month of May starts.
Believe me, I understand that these are unprecedented times, and I do not envy the incredibly difficult decisions Governor Mills has to make. I am grateful for her steady leadership, and for the smart people she has chosen as her commissioners. I know firsthand that her team is working around the clock to gradually and safely restart Maine’s economy, and it is not an easy task. But my many years as an innkeeper, and my decades of involvement with Maine’s hospitality industry, compel me to share my thoughts.
Maintaining a quarantine period for out of state travelers through July and August effectively guarantees that our state’s lodging places, big and small, cannot book rooms. With an average nightly stay of 3.5 days, a 14-day quarantine order – which stipulates that guests must stay indoors “except when engaging in essential services” – means that our visitors will likely not come at all, and that the hundreds of people who work in hospitality cannot count on their jobs. It means that lodging places such as the inn my husband and I started back in the 1980s may not survive.
The Department of Economic and Community Development has said that they recognize that the continuing out-of-state quarantine is hard, and that they are thinking about alternate options. I urge them to make identifying those options an immediate and top priority. In addition, a clear timeline is needed, as soon as possible, so that our hotels, motels, and vacation rental companies can operate.
I recognize the ongoing health concerns that Covid-19 poses for our state, and I support instituting alternative health measures. These may have the benefit of being more enforceable, and therefore more efficacious, than quarantine.
I am in favor of non-contact check-in procedures, and tight messaging to tourists, instructing them that they should not travel to Maine if they are ill.
I suggest that a lifting of the quarantine be done only with the understanding that it could be reinstated should a significant spike in the virus occur. Visitors to Maine would need to accept that possibility upfront, and have the ability to cancel their reservations should it become necessary.
Replacing the 14-day quarantine on travelers to Maine with measures we can implement would provide a small amount of certainty in this uncertain time.
It would remove some of the anxiety that our hotels, motels, B&Bs, campgrounds and vacation rentals – along with all the businesses that benefit from their success -- are currently experiencing, and give that sector of our economy a fighting chance.
This is a tense time for everyone, including those who work in tourism, and this spring is an exceptionally stressful one. Let’s do what we can, safely, to alleviate some of that stress.
Rep. Vicki Doudera and her husband, Ed, started the Blackberry Inn in Camden and ran it for 12 years. She currently represents Camden, Islesboro and Rockport in the Maine State Legislature.