Park visitors crowd the summit of Cadillac Mountain, one of the most popular spots in Acadia National Park, in July 2019. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

Amid an ongoing pandemic, Maine’s tourism and hospitality industry appears to be bouncing back, in large part due to a slight increase in the number of people visiting the state this summer.

A little over 10 million people visited Maine between May and August 2021, which exceeded the number of tourists during the same period in 2019 by a slim 2.4% in comparison to the 32% drop in visitors Maine saw in 2020, according to the Maine Office of Tourism’s summer visitor tracking report.

“It was a better year for business compared to the last two years,” said Chief Executive Officer of Maine Tourism Tony Cameron. “However, the workforce situation will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. There is a multitude of factors for the shortage, and it will play a role in growth and revenue for businesses.”

Sean Riley, the president of Maine Course Hospitality Group, which operates 13 hotels across Maine, including Hampton Inn in Bath and Brunswick Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Brunswick, said 2020 was a horrific year for them, but 2021 is better.

“The first part of the year was still weaker than 2019, and the second half of the year was closer to 2019 in terms of business in most of our hotels,” said Riley. “In the second half of the year, we were back to somewhat normal. The difficult thing was finding team members to join our company.”

Riley added that they have almost nine hotels this year that matched the 2019 budget numbers. Mostly these hotels are in the coastal areas of Portland, Brunswick, Bath, Topsham, and August.

Most of these hotels were operating at an 85% occupancy rate in the summer.

He said there was an impact on hotels in the inland areas that depend on government business.

“They did not do much business, but it was better than what we had expected when we did our budgets in January,” said Riley. “We stopped paying attention to our budgets because our budgets were done in a vacuum.”

Scott McKenney, general manager at The Brunswick Hotel, said the hotel has trended with the market seeing healthy increases to 2020 and even exceeding 2019. However, he refused to provide information about their revenue or the number of visitors.

He added that the occupancy rate for December and the coming months are trending positively. However, he said the December and the first quarter of the year are slower and not typically 100%.

While it is too early to assess the effects of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the tourism and hotel industry, McKenney said that he is cautiously optimistic based upon the business levels that positively developed this year.

“Increasing rates of vaccination and boosters have allowed people to travel more confidently, it would seem,” said McKenney. “The real issue becomes staffing, a real problem across industries.”

According to the summer report, one in four visitors, who visited Maine in the summer, was traveling to Maine for the first time, and over one in three visitors had previously traveled to Maine more than 10 times.

There has been a significant increase in spending levels per visitor too. In the first seven months of the year, visitors spent more than 2.5 billion at Maine restaurants, hotels, and other lodging businesses. That was almost $1 billion more than the same period in 2020, according to the recent sales reports from Maine Revenue Services.

Visitors who stayed overnight in paid accommodations in Maine spent $786 per day and $2,983 during their trip. The visitors who stayed overnight in unpaid accommodations spent $402 per day and $3,257 during their trip.

Sarala Francis, a resident of Hamden in Connecticut, who visited the Bar Harbor area in Maine with her friends, said they spent a little more than $3,000 during their five-day visit. They stayed in an Airbnb near Bar harbor and at a cabin in Kokadjo.

“We went to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and a lot of restaurants,” said Francis. “Bar Island was nice to walk on when there was low tide. There are a lot of activities to do there like Kayaking which is great. I will plan to visit again.”

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