As we break over this Labor Day weekend, in this most abnormal of all summers, let’s take a few moments to thank the tens of thousands of men and women who work in Maine’s hospitality and tourism industry for keeping our residents and visitors safe. Maine’s infection rates would not be nearly as low without the stalwart efforts of Maine’s largest private sector industry. This is the greatest untold story of our summer of discontent.

The recent wedding in Millinocket resulting in more than 140 infections in several locations, and tragically causing the death of a resident who didn’t even attend, is heartbreaking, especially for those most closely affected. However, the incident overshadows how few missteps have occurred at Maine’s restaurants and hotels, even as they struggle to survive through mandated restrictions during their vital peak season.

In February, Maine’s $10 billion hospitality industry was on pace for a record 12th straight year of growth – in September we now face losses of more than $2.4 billion. Just as there was no playbook for managing during a pandemic, there is no path to post-COVID travel. Restaurants and hotels will need additional aid from the state and federal governments, and support from the public as never before.

Gov. Mills has the power of emergency orders and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention can issue protocols, but neither can execute these edicts on the front lines. This is the sole responsibility met every day by the tireless people who work in Maine’s hospitality and tourism sector. They deserve far more credit than they’ve received.

This success is even more staggering when one considers the sector is comprised almost exclusively of thousands of small businesses, many owner-operated, located in every nook and cranny of Maine.

Each has made huge investments in new equipment, procedures and staff re-training. Compounding this challenge are dwindled revenues – a mere fraction of what a normal season would produce – because of mandated reductions and far fewer tourists. Hundreds of businesses have not been able to adapt and are now closed – permanently. Many others are sure to follow as the season winds down and colder weather descends. Still, there are countless stories of determination, pride and resiliency in this unprecedented situation.

Bear Spring Camps on Great Pond in Rome was forced to close its restaurant. Instead of calling it quits, the owners purchased new gas grills, microwaves and coffee makers for all their camps. They now conduct deep cleaning regimens between each cabin rebooking. The Craignair Inn and Restaurant in Spruce Head almost didn’t open, fearing for staff and guests. Instead of declaring defeat it implemented “The Prevention Pledge,” going above and beyond the CDC protocols to keep employees and guests as safe as possible.

The Francis, a boutique hotel in Portland, closed its spa, jettisoned in-room minibars and instead installed new HEPA air purifiers in all rooms. The Log Cabin Inn on Bailey Island strips every piece of linen, from quilts to mattress pads, and disinfects floor to ceiling after each guest departs. Rather than operate its restaurant, breakfast and dinner is delivered to tray stands outside each room. Tim Pond Camps, a wilderness lodge in remote Eustis, leaves cabins empty for 24 hours between bookings and has restructured its dining room to safely serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts.

Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard struggles with a shortage of employees causing reduced hours, service challenges and occasional disrespect and rudeness from customers. The historic Poland Spring Resort retrofitted all 32 of its buildings with new safety features, as occupancy has dropped by 80 percent and weddings disappeared.

Even Wiscasset’s iconic Red’s Eats has adapted by closing a deck, and building new counters, signage and a sanitation station. Red’s uses the latest in personal protective equipment and health screens each employee daily. They do this willingly to keep people safe and motivate us all by exclaiming “We Got This!”

That call echoes across the state and there will be many more stories to tell, but the theme is clear: Hospitality professionals are the unsung heroes of Maine’s COVID summer of 2020.

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