FILE - ME Tourism 6-26-2018

Tourists watch the moon rise June 26, 2018, over the Atlantic Ocean near The Pier in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Old Orchard Beach has long been a popular summer destination for French-speaking Canadians from Quebec.

(The Center Square) – With the summer tourism season approaching, the Maine hospitality industry is working on a detailed plan for a phased reopening.

Like past years, visitors will be drawn to the state’s wide-open spaces and coastline, but there will be new emphasis on public safety assurances, Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, told The Center Square.

A recovery and restart plan from HospitalityMaine was submitted to the Administration on April 22, and is being reviewed by state public health and economic development officials, Hewins said. Once vetted, the plan could be announced as early as next week.

“We’re very anxious to get this launched,” Hewins said. “We’ve been in a holding pattern, and we’re finally seeing a flickering light at the end of the tunnel.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lockdown, the industry was poised to achieve its 14th straight year of economic growth, Hewins said.

“We were on an incredible run until everybody hit the same wall,” Hewins said. “In Maine, tourism is a $10 billion business, over 1 in 10 residents are in the industry, and the effect of closing restaurants and hotels has far-reaching impacts. With the industry at the standstill, up to 90 percent of those people are unemployed, not to mention the impact on all the businesses that benefit – the small farmers, the fisherman. … It’s really Maine’s largest private sector employer in the state.”

The net effect of the closures has led to the risk of many businesses not making it to the other side, Hewins said.

“Some of the small businesses – the inns and the small restaurants – people have life savings built in to these places” Hewins said. “They’re really worried they’re going to lose everything, not just the tourist season in 2020. It’s a desperate landscape right at the moment.”

Still, the industry is eager to start implementing its recovery plan.

“The opportunity is, we can execute a lot on the strategy,” Hewins said. “People have been coming to Maine forever, and to convince them to come back, we can emphasize fresh air, fresh seafood – and, by the way, we also have the best sanitation and safety protocols in place for our visitors.”