Some businesses in Maine’s gigantic tourism industry worry a state mandate for out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for two weeks would effectively cancel the state’s critical summer season.

It is unlikely many tourists would be interested in a vacation that involves staying inside their hotel room or rented home, said Maine Tourism Association CEO Tony Cameron.

The multibillion-dollar industry wants to reopen the right way, and the health and safety of guests and staff is top of mind for everyone, Cameron said.

At the same time, there is deep concern and anxiety about the plan put forward by Gov. Janet Mills, and the industry wants clarity to feel comfortable that it can succeed this year, he said.

“We are trying to figure out what this means and move forward,” Cameron said. “We need to get a lot of clarification and better understanding to what it means so we can have a successful tourism season – it is imperative for Maine for that to happen.”

Members of the Mills’ administration presented a softer stance on the quarantine requirement Wednesday.

Among possible tools to curtail the spread of coronavirus, a mandated self-quarantine is what’s available to the state now, but in the coming months more options may emerge to test and identify potential carriers, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson said in a news conference.

“Quarantine is a last-case choice,” Johnson said. “We are actively looking at some other choices that we aren’t ready to be able to talk through yet. But I think there will be choices.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said scientific data would lead the way on testing strategy and ways to keep people safe.

Quarantine “casts a very, very broad and wide net, and as a result, it’s going to be a bit over-inclusive,” Shah said. “Our goal is to try to come up with a more targeted, more finely refined and defined approach to how we can target individuals who are coming into the state.”

Shah didn’t specify which data points the state would use to guide its strategy.

Under the state’s phased economic recovery plan unveiled Tuesday, Maine’s lodging and tourism businesses would be among the last to reopen, not until July or August at the earliest.

Lodging and campgrounds could be open to Maine residents and people who have met the 14-day isolation requirement by June 1. Lodging could reopen to visitors starting in July, but the quarantine requirement would remain.

Hotels and other lodgings should not take reservations until the Mills’ administration issues guidelines to help them reopen safely, according to the plan.

The quarantine for out-of-state visitors is intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus from hot spots such as the Boston area and New York City to Maine, which has so far prevented the virus from overwhelming its health care system.

Unfortunately, those areas are also major sources of the state’s tourists. Maine had more than 37 million out-of-state visits in 2019, three-quarters of them during the summer.

Direct tourism spending exceeded $6 billion last year, roughly 11 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. The tourism and hospitality industry supports a host of other industries across the state.

Allyson Cavaretta, principal at the Meadomere Resort in Ogunquit, is among a chorus of voices in the hospitality industry asking for clarity on the reopening plan.

A quarantine “is not a reasonable position for the tourism industry to succeed,” she said.

Visitors are not going to come to Maine for two weeks to stay in their hotel, and most people don’t visit for that long anyway, she added.

The average stay for overnight visitors in 2018 was about 4 nights, according to an annual survey from the Maine Office of Tourism.

Cavaretta worries visitors will avoid Maine and choose states with fewer restrictions.

“I hope they just get to come, they don’t have to make that choice,” she said.

Summer tourism spending is critical to local economies and the state’s bottom line.

Almost $802 million was spent on Maine accommodations between June and September of last year, 64 percent the annual total, according to the state’s tax agency. Diners spent more than $1.3 billion in restaurants over the same period, nearly half the annual spending.

Some of those visitors are likely to stay away this season.

The Paradise Park Resort Campground in Old Orchard Beach was flooded with requests to cancel reservations after Mills extended the out-of-state isolation order, owner Mike Halle said.

“They feel like there is no way for them to meet the criteria for the reopening plan, and they think summer is canceled,” Halle said.

Most of his guests are return visitors who book a weeklong family vacation a year in advance, Halle said. About 90 percent of his bookings are at risk.

Halle said he agreed with Mills’ decision to extend a stay-at-home order until the end of May and would support a cautious approach through June. He and his staff were working on protocols to keep workers, guests and neighbors safe.

But extending a strict self-quarantine rule through July and August is going to hurt his business and his city, an iconic Maine summertime destination, Halle said.

“I think the governor just said Maine is in good shape – the only way to screw that up is to open it up to out-of-state people,” he said. “Give us a little credit for being responsible business people and give us a chance to bring customers in safely.”

A DECD spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the quarantine rule and guidance the department is developing for businesses.

Chip Gray, owner of the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, said he’s already taking care of out-of-state guests. Essential workers from New York and Massachusetts stayed at the hotel while working on municipal well projects and repairing power lines after a recent spring storm, he said.

The hotel has stepped up sanitation, giving each room a deep clean after every guest leaves, practicing social distancing in the lobby and public areas, and doing everything it can to keep people safe.

“A balance can be arrived at allowing the out-of-state visitor with the correct safety protocols in place to protect the population and keep the economic fabric of Maine’s society whole,” Gray said.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan contributed to this story.

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