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Several large hotel chains asked Gov. Janet Mills in a letter Monday to eliminate Maine’s 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors, saying it is causing extreme harm to the industry.
Hotels were allowed to open Monday as part of the second stage of the governor’s economic reopening plan, but guests must either be Maine residents or out-of-state visitors and essential workers who have met the 14-day quarantine requirement. Hoteliers have complained that the requirement is onerous because visitors cannot self-quarantine in hotels and the quarantines have many reservation cancellations.
The hotel chains, which formed a group called “Work With ME” on Monday, submitted its own two-phase plan to the governor including sanitation and physical distancing procedures and a phase-in to self-serve foods.
The letter was signed by executives from Ocean Properties, which owns 125 hotels nationwide and 11 in Maine including the Bar Harbor Regency, and Witham Family Hotels, which has 12 hotels in Maine including the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa. The group said it represents 38 hotels in 18 municipalities with 3,175 employees, and is open to more members.
The group said it has been hosting frontline hospital and other essential workers from in-state and out-of-state, and is experienced with safe operations.
“We’re confident we can provide a safe experience for guests and protect our employees,” said Eben Salvatore, director of operations at Ocean Properties.
The impact of the coronavirus restrictions hit hard over the Memorial Day weekend, Salvatore said. Even though restaurants were open for indoor dining, the normally crowded streets of Bar Harbor were empty at night. He said the few restaurants that tried to open over the weekend reported losses of up to 95 percent compared to last year.
“The pain is now real,” he said. “Further delays are digging a hole for our associates and business that may be impossible to recover from.”
Having no visitors affects everyone, with no retail customers shopping or families taking part in many other activities, and it’s still too early to tell the effect of Acadia Park’s reopening on Monday, he said. The hotel group had only 12 hotel rooms booked in Bar Harbor on Monday night.
Typically in a season only 8 percent of the hotel owner’s customers are Mainers, not enough to pay the property taxes, he said.
David Witham, CEO of Witham Family Hotels, said he opened two of his hotels today. One, with 153 rooms, had only two rooms reserved. Like Salvatore, he said Mainers account for only between 8 percent and 12 percent of guests.
“As long as you have the quarantine period our borders are closed indefinitely, and it’s really hard to plan,” Witham said. “We’ve changed our opening dates three times in this season already. It’s difficult on staff.”
He hopes alternatives the governor has referred to, including testing, will surface so his hotels can have a normal amount of visitors in July, even though he realizes things won’t be the same as before the pandemic, he said. He’s already bought $7,000 worth of hand sanitizer.
Steve Hewins, president and CEO of the industry group HospitalityMaine, said he supports the goals of the group.
“Much of what they are asking for was in our original proposal to the governor submitted back on April 22,” he said.