Groups representing Maine tourism businesses want Gov. Janet Mills to allow them to reopen and rescind a requirement that out-of-state visitors self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive.

In an open letter to the governor posted online Tuesday, seven groups said Maine’s tourism economy is on the verge of collapse. They said they are working on a plan to reopen and welcome visitors safely, and asked Mills to drop the quarantine requirement.

“We need to begin, today, making the future brighter for Maine residents. We need to begin repairing the economic health of Maine’s people now,” the groups said. “In order to do so, Maine’s visitors need to feel welcomed. Visitors need to know they can safely visit Maine this summer without a quarantine.”

The letter was drafted by the Tourism Alliance, a group composed of HospitalityMaine, the Ski Maine Association, Maine Tourism Association, Retail Association of Maine, Maine Campground Owners Association and tourism promotion groups in Portland and Bangor.

Maine Course Hospitality Group, which owns about 20 branded hotels in Maine and New Hampshire, has furloughed most of its staff and given up hope of making money this year.

“I’m not looking at profits, I’m looking at survival,” said Maine course President and CEO Sean Riley.

Marriott and Hilton, the two brands his hotels carry, will soon introduce sanitation, social distancing and other protocols to keep guests and staff protected, Riley said. He expects to be able to offer guests the safest and cleanest experience possible when hotels are allowed to reopen.

Riley said he understands and appreciates the quarantine’s intent, but warned that if it stays in place, it will be devastating to his business and employees.

“I admire (Mills) for doing what she thinks is right. I know she is not trying to hurt our 500 associates that are out of work,” Riley said. “I hope she realizes the seriousness of the impact on this state and our people.”

Gov. Mills closed hotels and enacted a quarantine on anyone but essential workers traveling into the state on April 3. The quarantine was extended through at least July in Mills’ phased plan to restart Maine’s economy.

That rule alarmed Maine’s sprawling tourism industry, which relies on the throngs of out-of-state visitors over the short summer to make ends meet for the rest of the year.

Maine attracts millions of out-of-state visitors who spend billions of dollars every year. One in seven Mainers is employed in hotels, restaurants, tour operations or shops across the state that depend on tourism, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

Lodging and campgrounds will be allowed to reopen starting in June to Maine residents and out-of-state visitors who have gone through two weeks of self-quarantine upon arrival. The state Department of Economic and Community Development expects in mid-May to issue safety protocols for lodging businesses to reopen, according to a notice on its website.

In its letter, the alliance said it has begun an industry-wide reopening plan that follows U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, keeps guests and workers safe and protects the health of Maine communities in every way possible.

“Maine’s businesses and industries are ready to be responsible. And we, like you, are asking the people of Maine to be responsible,” the group said. “Now we need you to trust in our commitment to one another and let us be responsible.”

Quarantine is a proven epidemiological strategy to mitigate the spread of the virus and one of a limited number of tools available to protect state residents, said Department of Economy and Community Development spokeswoman Kate Foye. Maine has so far successfully protected hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Hot spots such as New York City, Massachusetts and New Jersey, the homes of many tourists who travel to Maine, keep reporting significant numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Foye added.

Maine’s hospitality and tourism sector is a pillar of the Maine economy, and the Mills administration is working with industry representatives to find solutions that protect the health of Maine residents and the economy, she said.

“Ultimately, it is the goal of the administration to be able to re-examine the 14-day quarantine, but to also do so in a way that protects the health of Maine people,” Foye said. “The last thing anyone wants is to overwhelm our health care system, put front line responders more at risk, or potentially destabilize our economy for an even longer period of time.”

Mandated business closures and the quarantine requirement are having a chilling effect in York County’s beach towns, one of the key destinations for out-of-state tourists. Garry Dominguez closed the doors of the 64-room York Harbor Inn in March and furloughed most of its 100 employees. He doesn’t expect to reopen until mid-June.

Dominguez said his business can survive for a while, but he doesn’t know how long. He’s already paid out $200,000 in refunds for canceled reservations. Even if he can reopen the inn’s restaurant, that revenue won’t be enough to cover his mortgage and other overhead.

The extended quarantine “really put a crimp in our business; we rely heavily on out-of-state visitors,” Dominguez said. “That is our major concern, that quarantine is a deal-breaker as far as our business is concerned.”

Other business owners worry about their financial future but are equally concerned about risk to their employees, families and community if Maine reopens too quickly.

“I am in debt like everyone else, but I don’t think it is fair to put everyone at risk for reopening sooner,” said Ilma Lopez, owner of Chaval and Piccolo restaurants in Portland. “The money in my pocket won’t make me feel as good if it means people are getting sick.”

Chaval and Piccolo are open for takeout, and Lopez has diversified to stay afloat, including selling meat to retail customers and other restaurants. As with other restaurant owners, summer is her busiest time of year, and out-of-state visitors make up a lot of her customers. Reopening regulations that limit customers and restaurant seating are crushing her business, Lopez said.

But with a dangerous pandemic raging, testing capacity lagging and scant information, she doesn’t feel comfortable rushing to put people in seats.

“I don’t feel if I opened right away it would be responsible for the community, and it is something I feel really strongly about,” Lopez said.

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