A major hotelier with 11 Maine properties is still upset with Gov. Janet Mills’ guidelines for out-of-state visitors and has accused her of ignoring concerns and data presented to her suggesting they could operate safely without onerous restrictions.

“Despite all of the facts, research, and proven protocols we and others presented to you, they all seem to be ignored,” wrote Mark Walsh, vice president of Ocean Properties, in a letter to the governor on Wednesday. “After more than a month of trying to work together, it is clear that our thoughts, efforts and collective concerns from across our industry, and local chambers of commerce, were given no weight.”

The City Farmhouse restaurant in the Sheraton at Sable Oaks in South Portland, part of the Ocean Properties portfolio. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

Walsh said he hired a crisis management firm out of Virginia that reviewed available data, including infection trends from states like Massachusetts and New York, and provided an opinion that disagreed with the 14-day quarantine requirement. The data were not included in the letter.

Lindsay Crete, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email that Mills considered their position.

“But their out-of-state consultant-driven proposals were inadequate to protect the health of Maine people, staff and visitors, and it presented too high a risk in the face of the large number of people coming to Maine from COVID-19 hotspots,” she said.

Walsh’s letter echoed concerns raised this week by Hospitality Maine and others that the governor’s alternative to a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors – allowing visitors to present evidence of a negative COVID-19 test – creates an undue burden on lodging facilities and may not be effective in halting the spread of the virus.

Under the governor’s executive order, beginning July 1 Maine lodging facilities will be required to ask out-of-state visitors to sign a certificate indicating they have tested negative within 72 hours of their stay. They may be asked to provide proof.

“We explained in detail that having cumbersome, unproven and potentially illegal testing and health disclosure requirements is a disaster for Maine tourism, especially when you are trying to roll it out in the middle of June with 90 days left in the season,” he said. “Our visitors are taking their business elsewhere and may never return.”

Walsh also said exempting New Hampshire and Vermont residents from the 14-day quarantine or securing a negative test will not help since those states make up less than 6 percent of Maine’s overnight visitors, according to the Office of Tourism. Massachusetts and New York, where the pandemic is more severe, make up 35 percent of the state’s overnight tourists.

In an interview, Walsh said it did not make sense for Maine to be the only state in the lower 48 that required testing when others are reopening far more widely. If people in hot spots such as New York City can travel to rural parts of that state, they should be able to visit here too, he reasoned.

“Bottom line, no one else is doing this. Why is the state of Maine trying to roll this out with 90 days left in the season when no one else deems it necessary?” he said. Alaska also has a testing requirement for visitors, and other states are considering it.

Even if Maine drops its testing requirement, Walsh expects a very tough tourism season. Group travel and destination weddings are off the table and the economic crisis means families may not have the money to travel, he said. Without a testing requirement, his company will only make half what it normally does, he said.

“The problem is even without testing you are looking at 50 percent. That is going to make a very difficult burden on most businesses to survive until next May,” Walsh said.

In his letter, Walsh pointed out that since March 15, nine Ocean Properties hotels in Maine have remained in operation for health care workers, first responders and others. No positive cases were reported by anyone who stayed. The same is true, he said, for all of his company’s 125 properties throughout the country.

Sixteen other states have a 14-day quarantine policy for out-of-state visitors, although some of those apply only to visitors from certain states. Hawaii this week extended its quarantine mandate into July.

“The administration worked hard to create a plan that provides an alternative to the 14-day quarantine, that provides visitors the opportunity to support our businesses, and that protects the lives and health of Maine people, visitors, and lodging establishment employees,” said Crete, Mills’ spokeswoman. “We believe the plan allows us to market Maine as a safe place to visit, which tourists have said they weigh heavily when considering where to travel, and it will help protect against outbreaks in our tourist destinations, which would devastate their reputations and financial prospects for years to come.”

Walsh, however, said the testing requirement has not been proven effective.

“I’m certain it is not your intention but the direct consequence of this policy will be the loss of tens of thousands of Maine jobs and the destruction of a large part of one of Maine’s most important industries,” he wrote. “Some will survive, but many will not. It will take years to recover.”

Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this report.

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