Radio Address – 6/19/20
Hello, I am Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake.
Saturday marks the first official day of summer here in Maine. Normally, this would be a time of great excitement and enthusiasm for small businesses across the state as it means the school year is ending and millions of Americans are planning their summer vacations.
Here in Maine, that usually means that we are about to start hosting 35 million visits by people from away, and the money that these visitors spend is absolutely crucial to the state’s economy.
To be sure, the cause of this unfortunate collapse in our tourism economy is a worldwide pandemic, but that unavoidable situation has been unnecessarily worsened by a set of policies that are far too restrictive.
Maine is the last state in the country, except Alaska, to require that visitors take a test for COVID-19 and show its negative results.
Steve Hewins is the President and CEO of Hospitality Maine and recently he sent me a letter explaining the dire situation. I would like to read that to you now.
Dear Senator Timberlake,
Maine’s hospitality and tourism industry is on the verge of collapse. Back in February we were headed toward our 14th straight record year of statewide growth. Then in March, the industry was virtually shut down due to the pandemic, and unemployment in our sector quickly grew to over 75%. Maine Revenue Services just reported lodging sales down 81% in April, and we know May and June will be worse, just as our peak season has begun.
Our industry in Maine is huge with over 110,000 employees, representing nearly 17% of the state’s workers. It is made up almost entirely of small businesses, and they are incredibly diverse, from diners and country inns, to family restaurants and sporting camps, to fine dining and seaside resorts. It reaches deeper into Maine’s economy including museums, tours, attractions, lobstermen, farmers, retail stores and so many more.
Right now, all these businesses are hurting, and we are hearing from them daily. A Pemaquid Inn whose revenue is 3% of what it was last year, a small motel in Bar Harbor that would be 90% booked for the entire season has only 5 rooms reserved for the entire month of August. A seasonal restaurant on the coast whose sales are down 90%. Many of these are well known, multi-generational businesses. And many of these sadly will not make it.
Right now, the restrictions on travel to Maine are tighter than any in the lower 48 states which does not make this possible. We are asking that Maine’s requirements for visitors be on a par with other New England states like Massachusetts. Our hotels and restaurants should all be open and filled.
Visitors should be spending money in our businesses and paying taxes that support our economy. If we are not able to save some of the season, it will indeed be a very long winter coming up in Maine, and the pain could stretch for years.
Steve Hewins, President and CEO, HospitalityMaine
Leaders of Maine’s state government need to get together and assess its policies so that we are more in line with other neighboring states. In the tourism industry, when you are the outlier, and it is more difficult to visit your state, people simply go elsewhere, where policies are safe, but welcoming.
Maine must focus its efforts on keeping everyone as safe as we can, while also recognizing the importance of owners and workers of small businesses, whose economic reality will not survive the loss of an entire summer season.
Again, I am Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake.
Please get out and enjoy the start of another beautiful summer in Maine.