A plan that allows out-of-state residents to visit Maine if they have a recent negative test for COVID-19 may still not be enough to save businesses struggling more with each passing day, tourism industry representatives say.

Maine’s $6.5 billion visitor industry has chafed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine that’s been in place since March for any nonessential travelers to the state.

Easing restrictions will help slightly, but Maine’s tourism businesses are struggling to stay afloat and hope for more ways to allow out-of-state visitors in, said Maine Tourism Association CEO Tony Cameron.

“We need a fighting chance, so much business has already been lost,” Cameron said. “Each day that goes by without workable solution is another day losing business we will never see again.”

The industry also wants to keep communities, visitors and employees safe, but limited testing capacity in parts of the country, the loss of group and event travel, and some travelers’ fear threatens an industry that the Maine Office of Tourism says employs one in seven Mainers.

“Every little thing we can get to help this business we are going to be pushing for,” Cameron said. “There is no amount of in-state visitation that is going to replace the loss we’ll see.”

Commercial Street is a popular tourist destination during the summer months. 2018 photo by Ariana van den Akker/Staff Photographer

On Monday, Gov. Janet Mills offered a plan called Keep Maine Healthy that is designed to ease that restriction. Residents of New Hampshire and Vermont can visit Maine without a quarantine beginning Friday – but those tourists typically represent only 6 percent of overnight stays, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. The two northern New England states have a similar prevalence of active COVID-19 cases as Maine, Mills said.

Starting July 1, visitors from other states can avoid quarantine if they sign a compliance certificate at their lodging that certifies they received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. Visitors may have to show proof of a test, Mills said.

The plan also includes more symptom checks at busy tourism areas and supports local public health and virus prevention efforts.

Relaxing quarantine requirements will allow more tourists to come to Maine while helping to keep the state’s vulnerable population safe, Mills said. Massachusetts and New York, where the pandemic is more severe, make up 35 percent of the state’s 22 million overnight tourists, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

“Many Maine people are fearful that more visitors will increase the spread of the virus, while many small businesses are fearful that a lack of visitors will force them to permanently close their doors,” Mills said in a statement.

“It is my hope that by creating layers of protection to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus this plan will protect public health, establish Maine as a safe place to visit, and allow tourists to come to Maine to support our small businesses.”

Expanded testing capacity also announced Monday will allow front-line workers, including employees in hotels, inns and restaurants, to get COVID-19 tests, the state said.

On Mount Desert Island, Mills’ announcement came as a disappointment to Alf Anderson, CEO of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“We hoped that some alternative other than this testing option would be made available and more out-of-state visitors would be allowed to come to the state,” Anderson said.

Bar Harbor has come up with standard operating guidelines for its businesses and developed a visitor code of conduct to keep the community and guests safe.

Usually very few of the millions of Bar Harbor visitors every summer hail from New Hampshire and Vermont, Anderson added.

“Businesses are more than ready, we are waiting for a plan that would allow for a significant number of visitors to keep these places alive for the next 12 months or so,” Anderson said.

Hospitality Maine, a trade group for the state’s lodging and restaurant industry, has been vocal about its opposition to the 14-day quarantine and its goal to reopen the state to tourism under enhanced sanitation, physical distancing and other measures.

Requiring visitors to get a test before coming may deter tourists just as much as the quarantine if people can’t access tests, said Hospitality Maine CEO Steve Hewins. Maine is alone among the lower 48 U.S. states in requiring testing to visit, Hewins added.

Mills should trust the hospitality industry to execute the new safety protocols they have developed and keep employees and the public safe, Hewins added.

“Maine’s hospitality industry is on the verge of collapse and all restaurants and hotels are looking for now is enough revenue for their businesses to survive until 2021,” he said.

However, some tourism industry workers were optimistic.

Colin Patton, the front desk manager at Waves Oceanfront Resort in Old Orchard Beach welcomed the new flexibility.

“We’re optimistic that this is really going to help us rent rooms,” Patton said. The hotel is taking reservations for July and August and has had some Maine residents stay a night or two just to get out away from home.

While New Hampshire and Vermont don’t represent a big pool of visitors, he hopes more people decide to take a beach trip to Maine.

“If there is one consensus, people definitely want to come if they can come,” Patton said.

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