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Business and Economy

Mainers Who Cater To Visitors See A Bleak Season Ahead, And Little To Cheer In Gov's Reopening Plan

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Main Street, Bar Harbor, Maine, seen in 2010.

Steve Hewins' constituents may be some of the hardest hit economically by the spread of the new coronavirus. Hewins is the president and chief executive officer of Hospitality Maine, which represents restaurants, bars and hotels. He joined Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz to discuss Gov. Janet Mills' announcement that she intends to gradually reopen parts of Maine's economy over the next couple of months. GRATZ: Steve, welcome.

HEWINS: Thank you. Glad to be here.

You had told us earlier that you've been meeting with some of your constituents. What are you hearing so far in response to the governor's announcements?

We've heard a lot of anxiety, a lot of dismay, a lot of, I guess, a plethora of concerns, and really questions about their viability going forward. I think probably the main issue that the governor mentioned was a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors coming in July and August. And I think for most people in the hospitality sector, that spells the end of summer.

Why do you say that?

Well, most of the businesses, as many know, make a lot of their profits, I suppose, in July, August, September, October - that's the peak season. And, you know, many have to survive through leaner months in anticipation of earning back the income during the summer. At this time of year, we're typically staffing up and trying to find the workers to participate.

And, you know, right now everybody is unemployed and it's a generally a disappointing period of time for a lot of people. And they're looking for some optimistic information and the governor didn't really deliver that. And I think they're also looking for specific guidelines and things that they need to do to keep their employees and their customers safe. And we haven't yet received that.

I guess the other thing that strikes me, too, because we were talking about that 14-day quarantine period, do you have a lot of data about how long the typical visit to Maine is in the summertime?

According to the Maine Office of Tourism Director Steve Lyons, the average stay in Maine is three-and-a-half days. There are certainly some people that stay a lot longer than that. And then there are plenty that come just for, say, a weekend. That's the reason why the 14-day quarantine is completely at odds, because just think of the idea of actually traveling to a hotel in Maine to be quarantined for 14 days. You know, it's unlikely that many would do that.

And that creates the feeling by a lot of people that the message really is Maine is closed for the season. We're looking at members that are little small inns and diners, businesses of that nature, on up to the largest hotel owners in the state who are essentially saying pretty much the same thing. The smaller businesses, it's really about survival. Many don't think that they can make it beyond the epidemic under the current anticipated guidelines.

You also mentioned too a lack detailed information yet about exactly what the governor may have in mind in terms of recommendations. Tell us a little bit more about that.

You know, Hospitality Maine itself, we provided a detailed implementation plan for a phased-in approach to hospitality about a week ago. I'm hopeful that when the directives come out, much of those proposals will be in it. I think the next stage for us will be the announcement of those directives.

There is potentially, I suppose, time for additional discussion with the governor and her staff. I mean, we're just approaching the beginning of May. Summer tourist season doesn't really kick into gear until July, correct?

No, that's not correct, actually. The problem is that people are booking now - but most people book their plans well in advance. If you're coming to Maine on a typical summer in July, you've got to have your reservations now or you're not going to get a room. So we don't really have a lot of lead time. We need to know now, because if we have to call people that are booked - the many, many, many thousands that are booked - we need to make those calls.