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March 22, 2021

Maine lodging industry gets a boost as reservation requirement is lifted

A sign says Comfort Inn and smaller 99 restuarant and below that welcome to Augusta, a restuarant and hotel building can be seen behind Photo / Maureen Milliken The lifting of the reservations requirement for Maine lodging establishments will give a boost to hotels and motels, especially those that get a lot of walk-in travelers.

Maine's hotels, motels, inns and other lodging establishments are no longer required to take reservations, a move that will largely benefit businesses that are stops along the way for travelers.

Gov. Janet Mills on Friday updated COVID-19 rules for the industry, eliminating the reservations requirement, which was established March 14, 2020; lodging businesses weren't permitted to open until more than two months later but could begin taking reservations then.

Greg Dugal, HospitalityMaine director of government affairs, told Mainebiz that while advance online registration is common, lifting the mandatory reservation rule helps some areas of the state, "especially those that find themselves on the way to a destination."

"We have already heard from some of our members that welcome the ability to accept walk-in customers that they are very happy," he said. HospitalityMaine represents more than 1,000 members in the lodging and restaurant industries.

And reservations are going well, too, he said. "We are hearing from all areas of the state that reservations are coming in fairly briskly. This has been true for the last few weeks, but really took a noticeable upward turn when the governor made her announcement easing lodging and travel restrictions.

"We are hoping for and truly need a very good year," Dugal added.

While the revised lodging checklist "is very reasonable," he said another step the industry is looking forward to is a modification of the 6-foot social distancing rule that applies to function spaces in hotels and inns.

Mills' Moving Maine Forward plan, announced March 5, raises indoor gatherings to 50% of capacity starting Friday, and 75% starting May 24. The percentage of capacity for outdoor gatherings will increase to 75% Friday and 100% starting May 24.

Recovering from 35.6% revenue drop

Friday's changes to the lodging checklist, aside from lifting the reservations requirement, consolidate hotel, campground and short-term rental checklists, and revises cleaning protocols.

Dugal said earlier this month that more help for lodging industry is needed if it's going to recover from the 35.6% revenue hit it took last year. "I think there's a perception that lodging is big business, but it's different in Maine," he said. Much of Maine's industry is seasonal, and of the 1,400 lodging licenses, half are businesses with 13 rooms or less.

The timeline announced March 5 also added Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island to New Hampshire and Vermont as states exempt from the quarantine rule. Effective May 1, Maine will shift to listing states that aren't exempt, rather than those that are. Anyone, no matter what state they're from, who has had COVID-19 or has been fully vaccinated, is exempt.

Dugal said that while it's key that the state can welcome all six of the New England states, the region from where it draws most of its visitors, another challenge is reopening the border with Canada. About 17% of Maine's summer tourists come from Quebec, Ontario and the Maritime provinces.

The Department of Economic and Community Development, in partnership with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, will continue to review and update the COVID-19 checklists for businesses to reflect progress in vaccinations and to further align the guidelines with Maine’s strategy to combat COVID-19, a Mills news release said Friday.

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