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Updated: March 22, 2021 On the record

On the Record: Matt Lewis brings a West Coast vibe to Maine's hospitality field

Photo / Tim Greenway Matt Lewis, new president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, moved here from California.

Matt Lewis was a California tourism and hospitality executive for decades before taking the reins as president and CEO of HospitalityMaine in February. It’s a challenging time for the industry, which includes more than 1,000 hotel and lodging members, as it looks for ways to recover from the pandemic. Mainebiz caught up with Lewis to hear about his plans.

Mainebiz: You came all the way across the country for this job — what about it appealed to you?

Matt Lewis: It was not a difficult decision when you get to work with a talented and energized team and engaged board of directors. On several leisure trips to Maine, I experienced beautiful properties and a warm welcome. Travel is a gift. I’ve built my career around hospitality and tourism and make it a goal to visit a new country each year. It is an honor to lead HospitalityMaine, with many opportunities and challenges ahead.

MB: What have you been doing so far in your first months on the job and what are you learning about Maine and the industry?

ML: I was not prepared for the amount of doughnut shops and amazing ice cream in Maine. My sweet tooth will need to dial back. I am spending time on the road visiting our board members, many who are lodging and restaurant owners. I am eager to hear about their struggles, successes and how they persevere. I am joining boards and connecting with other state restaurant and hotel associations, hearing best practices and promoting Maine every step of the way. I will continue to be visible and engaged.

MB: Do you have any overarching goals or focuses you would like to prioritize?

ML: HospitalityMaine is a membership-based organization. Engaging new members and maintaining our base is vital and essential. Kathleen Pierce is our excellent director of member experience who recently signed up five new members in one day! Our entire staff assists with member outreach.

HospitalityMaine is an advocacy organization. We actively support (or in some cases lobby against) legislation impacting hotels and restaurants. We also take policy positions that seek to assist, promote and protect them. Greg Dugal, our director of government affairs, is a wonderful ambassador. We are grateful for the [Gov. Janet Mills’] “Moving Maine Forward” plan. It is clear that she listened to the concerns of the hospitality community and that Maine can anticipate a strong summer.

Smaller restaurants and bars still face a challenge, as the 6-foot social distancing guidelines were not reduced. This was an issue we presented to the governor’s staff, but at this point, changes were not made. Smaller restaurants and bars will have to turn away many patrons because they are not able to add more tables. Reducing this to 4 feet would be extremely helpful for these businesses. We will keep pushing this idea forward.

MB: Before the pandemic, the big issue was lack of workforce. How does the organization plan to tackle that issue this year and long-term?

ML: HospitalityMaine is launching educational programs in partnership with the Maine Community College System. Steve Hewins, our former president, is leading the effort. Our goal is to source talented students and encourage them to explore hospitality careers. This will be tremendously helpful, as Maine faces chronic staffing shortages during our busy summer season. We will continue to help set curriculum to train hotel and restaurant staff for safety and COVID-19 precautions.

MB: Is there anything about Maine in general that has surprised you since you have started the job?

ML: It’s not surprising, but I appreciate the warm welcome to Maine. I received many well wishes, emails and phone calls and that felt good. I am also loving the tight-knit feel of Maine. The connection between people seems very real and everyone has been cordial and welcoming. I stopped in a little shop in York and ended up having a half-hour conversation with the owner.

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