Heather Montgomery, manager of The Kennebunk Inn, inside the sitting room on Saturday. “As we got towards the end of 2022, we were on a significant upwards trajectory from 2021.” But this summer, that trajectory has eased. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Normally by this time of year, Tom and DeeDee Blake’s Airbnb rental in South Portland, overlooking Portland Harbor, would be booked almost solid for July and August.

Last week, on the threshold of Maine’s peak summer tourist season, the two-bedroom suite – one of 56 registered short-term rentals in the city – had 15 nights open each month.

“For our top two months, when we’d usually be at least 90% full, we’re 50% full,” Tom Blake said. “Last year was our best year ever. But bookings in May were down 70% from last May, and I think we’ll end the year down 50% overall.”

The Kennebunk Inn has also seen a downturn this year. The inn’s occupancy rate was 70% to 80% through June 2023, compared with nearly 100% this time last year, according to Heather Montgomery, the inn’s manager. The low rate has come as a surprise to the inn.

“We were really getting a rush of everybody coming, everybody escaping because they finally got to go places,” she said. “As we got towards the end of 2022, we were on a significant upwards trajectory from 2021. We didn’t really see any indication that that upwards trajectory would stop.”

Bookings for short-term rentals have slowed across Maine, resulting in greater summer stay options and sometimes lower rates. That combination is far different from the market during the COVID-19 pandemic, which created incredible demand for rentals of all kinds.


It’s a nationwide trend among popular summer vacation destinations and one of several factors that Maine tourism officials are watching as the 2023 tourist season gets underway.

After an unusually rainy June, short-term rental operators in Maine face an equally saturated market. Short-term stays have soared in popularity in recent years, spurring many residents and companies to convert homes into vacation rentals. But now the operators are competing in a landscape clouded by persistent economic uncertainty, renewed international travel interest and staffing shortages that create long waits and business closures.

Online vacation rental platforms Airbnb, Vrbo and Vacasa showed continued availability this summer near Ogunquit, Bar Harbor and other popular Maine destinations. Some hosts slashed nightly rates by more than $100.

Vacasa reported in May that bookings are down after two record years.

“We continue to see evolving booking patterns as the industry comes off of two record years, and we are experiencing some renewed bookings softening,” Vacasa said in a letter to the company’s shareholders.

Airbnb and Vrbo didn’t respond to requests for interviews.



Another reason for the greater availability is renewed competition for travelers, who are getting more adventurous with their vacation dollars in the wake of the pandemic, especially overseas.

Facebook feeds are full of friends’ photos from recent trips to Italy, Iceland and other destinations that were out of bounds during the pandemic.

“There are definitely more short-term rentals and private rentals available,” said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, which represents 1,500 businesses statewide.

“A lot more came online in recent years and a lot more destinations are available to travel to now,” he said. “The desire to travel has never been higher. During the pandemic, the freedom to go anywhere, anytime, was severely restricted. The return of that freedom is still pretty fresh in everyone’s mind.”

To increase bookings, some short-term rental hosts have become more flexible about requiring minimum stays, which leaves less desirable weekdays available. But circumstances shift from rental to rental, Cameron said.


“Some rentals are booked through the season and others have spots to fill,” he said. “We always recommend that people plan ahead, but you can usually find a place to stay if you’re not too picky, even at the height of the season.”

Blake, the short-term rental host in South Portland, has some educated opinions on why demand for summer rentals is down. A retired firefighter and former mayor, he enjoys chatting with guests and closely follows news about rental trends.

Airbnb recently sent him an email sharing nationwide travel data. It said 57% of travelers to Greater Portland come from less than 300 miles away. The visitors are also deciding to travel more spontaneously and for shorter periods. The average stay in Blake’s rental is 2.1 nights, he said.

Portland has 844 licensed short-term rentals.

Many people are traveling by car with children, including a Minnesota couple with two young sons who stayed with the Blakes in late June. They stopped on their way to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.

“Acadia is huge,” Blake said. “About 30% of our guests are going to or coming from Acadia. I think without Acadia, tourism in Portland would be down greatly.”


Blake said he has noticed a decline in travelers from Asia and Europe. He believes they’re dissuaded by news reports about mass shootings and other violence and the instability of the U.S. economy.


Recent guests also have noted that the labor shortage appears to be worse in Maine than other states. Last week guests told him about hourlong waits for tables at two popular local restaurants and one restaurant that was closed on a Wednesday.

“Staffing is a nationwide problem, but it’s worse here,” Blake said.

Cameron, with the tourism association, acknowledged that staffing remains a challenge for many businesses in Maine’s tourism industry, which generates more than $15 billion annually and supports 151,000 jobs, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

“But we always need to make sure we continue to provide great service because we’re competing against every other destination,” he said.


Becky Jacobson, interim executive director of HospitalityMaine, which represents the lodging and restaurant industries, said staffing challenges have eased for some operators.

“Last summer (operators were) totally slammed,” she said. “Businesses were still rebounding, which was great for business but really hard on operators. This summer, demand has returned to normal levels and staffing is a lot better. Some operators are still struggling, but some are really close to full staffing.”


Local booking agents are seeing strong demand for their summer rentals, especially among returning guests, but they’re noticing the impact of an expanded short-term rental market and the proliferation of online vacation rental platforms.

Maine Vacation Rentals, an agency that books reservations for 30 private homes in and around Blue Hill, near Bar Harbor, requires at least one-week reservations.

The agency’s properties are completely booked this summer, said co-owner Gina Lewis, but demand has cooled in the last year and a half.


“When COVID hit, I didn’t have enough houses,” Lewis said. “Now, I think demand has returned to normal and I think people have other travel options, so fewer people are coming to Maine and they’re not coming for long periods.”

The Cottage Connection books for 50 private family homes in and around Boothbay. In 2021 and 2022, they were fully booked a year in advance, also with minimum weeklong stays.

This year, their summer bookings are at 75% at the season’s start, slightly down from the usual 80%, with a two-week average stay, said Alexis Miller, reservations manager.

“All of our repeat guests are booking again, but we definitely have some availability,” Miller said. “It’s a little bit all over the place.”

Guests booking now are an “interesting mix,” she said. While it’s not unusual for people to take a week to confirm a reservation, this year some are taking more than three weeks to decide.

“For others, there’s no question,” Miller said. “It’s wham, bam. They’re ready to make a reservation now.”


Miller believes some guests are weighing their travel options, with more places and events open to visitors than in recent years. Some are waiting for the weather to improve after an abnormally wet June. And some are concerned about economic uncertainty and fluctuating gasoline prices.

“I think we’re in a recovery now,” she said. “The scale is settling, because for the past three years it was tipped in Maine’s favor.”


Summer theater, concerts and annual events such as the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland and the Yarmouth Clam Festival are widely recognized as major drivers of tourism and overnight stays. This year, many summer visitors are scheduling getaways around shows such as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at Thompson’s Point in Portland or Chris Stapleton in Bangor.

Alex Gray of Waterfront Concerts, which books concerts for the Maine Savings Amphitheater in Bangor, Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and other venues, hears the feedback from hotel operators.

“They tell us the amount of traffic that is focused on our events,” Gray said. “We post a show in January for a date in June or July and their rooms are sold out for that night.”


Maine’s unusually wet June likely influenced travel decisions for some tourists last month, especially those who might have considered a weekend getaway from Massachusetts, New York or Canada, tourism officials said.

But even when the weather is balmy, including the recent Memorial Day weekend, some operators struggle.

In a survey answered by 200 Maine Tourism Association members, 35% said business was better this Memorial Day weekend than last year; 32% said it was the same as last year; and 33% said it was worse than last year.

“The majority of businesses – more than 60% – had a decent weekend,” Cameron said. “That’s a good sign. Some businesses are always going to be pessimistic about some stuff.”

Jacobson, with HospitalityMaine, said the rainy June was a drawback for some businesses and a boon to others.

“Weather is a mix,” she said. “They may not be getting pizza at the beach, but they’re going out to dinner at a restaurant. I’m not hearing doom and gloom by any stretch, and summer doesn’t really kick in until the Fourth of July.”


The availability of short-term rentals may prove beneficial to travelers who planned to go camping in Maine but have yet to reserve a site.

June’s rain wasn’t a unique challenge for members of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which represents 185 private campgrounds, 12 state parks and 50 affiliated businesses.

“It’s not unusual to have a wet June and it’s typically a slow month for campgrounds,” said Kathy Dyer, executive director of the campground group.

“Tenting was down, but that tends to swing up and down anyway,” Dyer said. “With the influx of new campers during the pandemic, July and August are full, with many sites booked last year. You definitely need to call ahead to see if there’s any availability.”

The Blakes will be among those heading to campgrounds. With the lack of bookings at their South Portland Airbnb in July and August, they decided to take a rare summer vacation Down East. They have booked five nights at a campground on Cobscook Bay, near Eastport.

“We usually have guests through the summer and fall,” Tom Blake said. “We’re looking forward to getting away.”

Staff Writer Kay Neufeld contributed to this report.

Comments are no longer available on this story