Mid-Coast Tourism Series Part 1: Remembering last summer amid pandemic

Connor Clement spoke with tourism officials to find out how businesses fared last summer and what’s ahead.
Aerial shot of Rockland Harbor
Aerial shot of Rockland Harbor(wabi)
Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 8:04 PM EDT
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ROCKLAND, Maine (WABI) - Tourism is the backbone of Midcoast Maine’s economy and has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Connor Clement spoke with tourism officials to find out how businesses fared last summer and what’s ahead.

That’s right, as we inch closer to the official start of summer, many folks are excited about the coming months.

But, it will be hard to forget their feeling toward summer this time last year.

“We really kind of have it all here, and it’s right in the center of the coast, so it’s a great hub,” said Tom Peaco, President of Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.

There may be no better place to spend a summer than Mid-Coast Maine.

I might be a little biased having grown up there, but the sights, the food, and the coast’s rich history are just a few things that make for an unforgettable experience.

Tourism is relied on so heavily every year in the area that it has become a top means of survival for many residents and businesses.

”The tourism industry for a lot of the communities, especially the coastal communities, is the backbone of their economy,” said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association.

Last summer, Mid-Coast Maine, like many tourist destinations, was devastated by the pandemic.

”It was definitely scary last year. It was a roller coaster for sure. Businesses had never been faced with anything quite like this situation before,” added Cameron.

Maine’s tourism industry saw visitation dip by about 27% last year during the pandemic.

The Maine Office of Tourism estimates that the economic impact was down about $3 billion dollars from the year before.

”It’s incredibly important that that revenue gets generated during that time of year, certainly keeping things sustainable year-round, but also all that has a trickle-down effect to the schools, to the hardware stores, to everything else,” said Cameron.

Yearly traditions, like the Maine Lobster Festival that draws thousands of visitors from all over, were canceled last year.

”A big part of driving the economy in the summer here is our large festivals, so we were not able last year to have the Maine Lobster Festival or the blues festival,” said Peaco.

The festival has been canceled again this summer.

Despite that news, or issues regarding staffing that many businesses have reported, there is great optimism about what this summer will bring.

”We’re hopeful that we’re going to have a nice bounce-back summer here for sure,” added Peaco.

The Maine Office of Tourism says a few weeks back, they conducted a survey asking businesses what Memorial Day Weekend was shaping up to look like.

Most businesses reported the holiday weekend is looking better than a normal year.

Tony Cameron with the Maine Tourism Association says although this summer should be better than last, we’re not completely out of the woods.

”I would also just remind everyone as they’re out and about enjoying Maine, to be patient this year as everyone is trying to adapt to getting back up to speed and to relax. Vacation is fun. It’s the best time to make those memories, so plan early and enjoy it,” said Cameron.

In part two of my special report, we’ll shift gears toward this coming summer.

We’ll hear from business owners in the Mid-Coast who say they’re optimistic about the months ahead, based on increases they’ve already seen.

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