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July 12, 2021

Maine tourism business is up, but staff shortages, closed border have hurt

A sign says help needed for 2021 cooks cashiers expediters with a phone number Photo / Maureen Milliken While many in the hospitality industry say business is up this summer, staff shortages have tempered growth, according to a trade association survey.

Maine businesses had a busy Fourth of July, but staff shortages and the continued closure of the border with Canada are still taking a toll, according to the Maine Tourism Association.

Nearly 40% of MTA members responding to a survey after the holiday said business was better this year than in a normal year, while 47% said business volume was between 75% and 100% of normal. Some 5% said business was worse than usual over the holiday weekend.

“It is such a relief to see our tourism businesses rebounding after the tremendous losses of 2020,” said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association. “Early on, all indications were that this year would be good year for our recovery and it is wonderful to see that panning out. However, challenges do exist — the Canadian border closure affects certain regions of the state greatly and the workforce shortage is tremendously affecting all aspects of tourism.”

Some 46% answering the survey said they had half or fewer of the employees they need this summer. The shortage has led 37% of businesses to reduce their hours or days of operation, and 54% have reduced business capacity, by closing rooms or tables, cutting back on tours, and other service changes.

Of businesses making changes to accommodate lack of staff, 70% said they expect up to a 25% decrease in revenue; while 28% expect a decline in revenue of 25% to 50%.

“The surge in business this summer is terrific but clearly we are leaving millions in tourism dollars on the table due to staffing shortages. Lodging properties are full but many can’t open all their rooms without more housekeeping staff," Cameron said. "Some restaurants, similarly, are keeping sections unused due to lack of kitchen or serving staff."

The border restrictions have had an impact on 33% of businesses significantly or moderately, according to the survey.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel, including tourism, since March 2020. In 2019, there were 5.1 million visitors to Maine from Canada, and they spent $1.2 billion, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

As Canada works to get its vaccine rates up, officials are expected to meet July 21 to reevaluate when to open the border.

Businesses said they are seeing some new trends this year. Many said they've had more Maine visitors than usual, while others said that visitation from across the nation was up. Visitors are also staying longer, focusing more on outdoor activities. Businesses are also seeing less seasoned travelers.

Cameron said that the staff at the state Visitor Information Centers, which the MTA oversees, are reporting the same trends — a strong increase in outdoor recreation and new travelers, as well as a lot of people who are moving to Maine.

“This demonstrates that tourism helps drive our entire economy," he said. "Promoting Maine is not just about marketing us as a vacation destination but reminding people about Maine’s unique quality of life."

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