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Business and Economy

Maine Lodging Industry Deals With Uncertainty Following Mandate To Limit Operations

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Nick Woodward
/
Maine Public
The executive order suspends lodging operations and online reservations at hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns and short-term rentals and campgrounds beginning Sunday, April 5 at noon.

Sunday, if you happen to be staying in a hotel, bed and breakfast, campground or other lodging in Maine, noon is going to be check out-time for almost everybody because lodgings around the state will be closing.

It's part of a new executive order from Gov. Janet Mills, designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 by discouraging travel to and around the state.

The rule is taking effect at a time when many hotels are just preparing for a busy season ahead, and has created some confusion and uncertainty. Some guests are being asked to leave suddenly, and reservations being made through third party websites such as Expedia are being automatically rejected.

And hotel employees like Free Martin are rushing to sort all that out. Saturday, Maine Public’s Jennifer Mitchell caught up with Martin, who manages the Ramada Inn in Bangor. He said he had been at work for more than thirty hours and hadn't slept since the Governor's order came through on Friday afternoon.

Ed note: interview has been edited for length and clarity

Martin: Well, I've been here 22 years, and ran Barnaby's Nightclub for 15 of those, and those were pretty busy days, and none of those were as busy as I am right now.

Mitchell: So what is the situation with your business right now?

We've lost a lot of customers, but we are also allowed to lodge some customers.

Right. So explain that just a little bit. There were some exceptions made in the governor's order. Explain a little bit about what you're now allowed to do as a hotel or BnB or a campground in the state.

Right. There are basically four categories, and they are housing vulnerable populations, including children and emergency placements or a person that is at risk of domestic violence and homeless individuals. We can provide accommodations for some healthcare workers and other workers deemed necessary to support public health and public safety. You know, active duty military. And we can use the hotel for people that are looking for a place to self-quarantine or self isolate.

Can anybody show up to a hotel seeking to self-quarantine?

No. They're going to need to be referred from a hospital or from one of the other local municipal agencies.

Governor Mills' order, of course, is it's trying to really, you know, limit unnecessary travel into the state, around the state as well. But what do you do if somebody drives up and says we've driven here from New York or Pennsylvania or whatever, and we have nowhere to go?

We have to tell them that if they are one of those four categories that I just listed off to you, then we can rent them a room. But as far as somebody that has just driven up here from New York or Massachusetts or an area hotspot that is looking for a place to stay, we have to refuse them service.

From some of the other calls that we've made, we've heard that there's just a little bit of uncertainty, really, going forward all the way into the season, because people aren't really sure if they should book a ticket or plan that fishing trip or come up. So is there any sort of sense as to how this is going to go going forward?

We do feel that this will clear up if everybody follows the policies that are set in place and the guidelines that are set in place. We do believe that it will pick up, and we do believe that we'll have a decent summer. And at some point in time, tourism, which is Maine's number one economy, one out of 10 people are employed in Maine and the hospitality business, and so we do believe that this will take up again.

When we were just talking earlier before we went to air, you mentioned that pretty much every hotel that you knew of was planning to stay open. So what does that look like for the bottom line? And then why not just shut down for a while?

I think everybody is in this position together. But believe me, we don't want to fill our hotel because that means the problem's gotten a lot worse. So we'd rather be empty, and have the problem go away for the next three weeks. But if our community needs us, we feel that we owe it to the community to stay open, even though it would probably be in our best interest, financially, maybe to not be open. We still feel it's in our best interests to be here for the community in time of need. Even though this is far from a prosperous moment in time for any hotel in any city in the United States.