When someone checks in to the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, no one takes the guest’s credit card – everything is paid in advance.

There’s little friendly banter or encouragement to linger at the front desk, either. Instead, guests are handed a white paper bag by a masked attendant. Inside, they find their room key, a guide to the resort, information about Kennebunkport and a checklist to request items they won’t otherwise find in their room: pen and paper, hair dryer, ironing board or extra blanket.

In a normal year, those would be standard hotel room amenities. But the Nonantum, like other Maine lodging businesses, is a very different place in the COVID-19 era, and anything that can’t be sanitized easily between guests has been removed.

The lobby, a common gathering place, is stripped of almost all furniture. The lobby bar is closed, and generous spacing between tables makes the dining room feel cavernous.

Feel like a swim in the pool? Make sure to reserve your party’s two-hour block ahead of time. The same goes for a dinner table in an outside cabana, or one of the resort’s kayaks or bicycles. Dispensers of hand sanitizer are placed near every entrance, and signs reminding guests to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart wallpaper the hallways and doors.

The hotel kitchen and bar have been moved outside, to give guests a clear view to how their food and drinks are prepared. Rooms are left empty for 24 hours between guests, said innkeeper Jean Ginn Marvin, and then go through a deep-clean of every nook and cranny, an exercise that takes twice as long as a normal cleaning.


So far, it is too early to tell whether the effort to reopen the right way will be worth it. The resort was only half-booked during the July Fourth holiday weekend, and managers are filling in for workers it can’t afford to rehire right now, Marvin said.

“We’ve been here for 136 years – people count on us to be here, workers count on us,” she said. “We felt we had to set the stage, set the standard and be cheerleaders” for the state’s lodging industry.

Hotels and inns have insisted for months that they are taking the pandemic seriously and doing everything they can to protect their guests, staff and communities. A dedication to safety has been the industry’s major argument for why Gov. Janet Mills should allow more out-of-state tourists to visit Maine without undergoing a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival or attesting to a recent, negative COVID-19 test.

More than 2,000 hospitality workers have completed a specialized course for COVID-19 protocols designed by the trade group HospitalityMaine and Eastern Maine Community College. A checklist created by the state includes specific operating procedures for lodging businesses intended to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

On a recent afternoon, Nonantum guests sunned themselves in clusters of lawn chairs spaced well apart. People gave one another a wide berth and hastily pulled on face coverings as they passed other guests and staff.

Reservations started flooding in right after the governor announced last week that travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut could visit Maine without restrictions, citing the improving public health metrics in those states.


Even though business has picked up, the resort still seemed quiet. Visitors strolled, shopped and dined in Kennebunkport Village, but activity was sedate compared with the normal summer crowds.

“It feels so weird right now,” Marvin said. “On a normal year we’d be working at a crazy high speed; there would be people everywhere.”

Staying at a hotel is risky compared with staying in your own community, said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief medical officer at MaineHealth.

“Staying overnight at a hotel does increase your risk over staying home, because you are going to encounter other people, including people from places with higher prevalence of the disease,” Mills said.

It also means moving around and eating in restaurants. People at high risk of severe health consequences from contracting the disease should avoid hotel stays, she said, but for young adults and others there are ways to mitigate the risk.

There are some things to look for when considering a hotel, Mills added. Key questions to ask before booking a room include whether staff and guests are wearing masks, social distancing is being enforced, there are abundant opportunities to sanitize hands, and the hotel is hosting large events.


She recommended checking hotel websites to learn whether they advertise precautions they are taking. If there’s no information, that could be a tipoff that safety measures are not being taken seriously.

“If they are making it easy for you to abide by those, and that their employees are, I would feel relatively safe as long as it is not crowded,” Mills said.

Other hotels are taking similar and even more extreme precautions. At Cliff House Maine, a luxury resort in Cape Neddick, incoming guests are stopped at a gatehouse and their temperatures are checked by staff before they drive up to the hotel.

Inside, chairs have been removed in the lobby to maintain 6 feet of distance between parties. Air-purifying machines are placed at intervals in common areas, and front desk staff behind Plexiglas shields use ultraviolet ray machines to sanitize key cards before passing them to incoming guests. Air filters also were upgraded with UV membranes to improve hygiene.

“Everything we do is about air quality,” said Managing Director Nancy White.

The hotel invested tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours into preparation, she added. That included installing glass dividers between tables in its restaurants and in front of the hotel bars. The hotel even offers access to COVID-19 testing for its guests through a medical office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


“It does make people feel comfortable – this gives them a sense of peace of mind,” White said.

About half the resort’s rooms were booked for the July Fourth weekend. Last year, it was completely full, White said. She doesn’t expect to be full again this summer, but if more tourists are allowed to come to Maine without restrictions, she thinks the hotel can get up to 75 percent occupancy.

But that requires the state to trust Cliff House and other lodging businesses and Maine’s tourism industry to operate safely and responsibly, something White says they’ve already proved.

“We feel like we did our part,” she said, but prospective guests keep canceling trips because they feel they can’t follow the state’s travel restrictions. “They really want to come, but they have been quarantining at home for three months already and don’t understand why they have to quarantine when they come here.”

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