The Maine Lobster Festival is not for the faint of heart. Tens of thousands of people travel to Rockland, Maine – a city of about 7,000 full-time residents along the southern coast of the state – to witness the salty affair each year. The event, immortalized by David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster, features carnival rides, cooking contests, a Sea Goddess beauty contest and, of course, a lot of lobster.
No goddess of the sea will be crowned this year. With the Covid-19 crisis spreading rapidly across New England, the festival was canceled. While lobsters have been spared for another year, communities gathering around the seasonal event are preparing to be hit hard.
Many parts of Maine, which calls itself Vacationland, depend on the millions of tourists who flock to its seaside towns and sandy beaches during the summer. The state welcomed more than 37 million foreign visitors in 2019, which spent a total of $ 6.5 billion. There is skiing in the winter but three-quarters of visitors who spent at least one day and one night in the state visited in May and September.
This summer will be very different and not only because the lobster festival has been canceled.
While Maine has seen just over 1,000 positive cases of Covid-19 and 52 deaths in its population over one meter – a relatively small number compared to other states in the northeast region of the United States. United – the state is taking precautionary measures to keep its numbers low.
Maine governor Janet Mills announced Thursday that statewide home stay orders will be extended until May 31. For the rest of the month, all visitors to the state will be asked to quarantine for 14 days, said Mills. Many state tourism businesses, such as hotels and campgrounds, will be allowed to open on July 1, according to the state’s most recent plan to reopen the economy.
“While other states are experiencing devastating epidemics, we cannot let our guards down,” Mills said at a press conference.
A shorter summer tourist season – or, if home stay orders continue into the summer, no season at all – will have devastating effects on much of the visitor-dependent state economy to keep communities afloat.
Maria Irrera, who has a vacation rental near her house in the idyllic seaside village of Lincolnville Beach, a short drive from Rockland, has already had to cancel three summer bookings.
Lincolnville Beach has one of the few sandy beaches along the middle coast of Maine. In summer, vacationers can dine at the McLaughlin’s Lobster Shack or enjoy oysters and cocktails at the Wheel House Beach Bar, located in the converted wheelhouse of a former sardine transport boat.
“If I look out the window at the beautiful bay, and if I haven’t read the news, I wouldn’t know there is anything wrong,” said Irrera.
Airbnb had asked tenants to cancel reservations until May and although Maine has been less affected by the coronavirus and is now in the process of reopening, Irrera is concerned about making future reservations and the impact of the closure on his community.
” I’m fine. I can work from home. But hotels? They don’t know what’s going on, ”she said. “Everyone is losing so much money. “
The travel industry in the United States as a whole is feeling the serious effects of home stay orders. The US Travel Association estimates that the industry has lost $ 99 billion since the closings began in early March.
Even as states begin to ease their stay-at-home orders, it’s unclear what travel will look like before a vaccine is created, which could take up to 18 months to roll out. While there are many people who want to leave the quarantined homes for a great beach vacation, there are also many who worry about what traveling could mean to contract or further spread the virus.
The US travel industry is watching China closely, where infection reports have dropped dramatically in the past few weeks, but demand for flights is about 45% of what it was before the crisis, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). Most flights can be attributed to people who return to work and visit friends and family; the tourism market in the country has not experienced as much resurgence.
The situation seems even more dramatic for the United States, where there has been no increase in demand for air travel – despite the decrease in the number of infections – due to health problems and a general economic slowdown.
” The [aviation] the industry is in free fall and we have not hit rock bottom, “said Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of Iata, in a statement.
While airline industry figures can be a canary in the coal mine for how the rest of the travel industry is doing, Maine and the rest of New England are hopeful that l economy will reopen at the height of the season in late June.
In Massachusetts, communities on the southwest coast have already seen cancellations or postponements of major summer events such as county fairs, food and wine festivals and annual concerts.
In Nantucket, the former whaling island that is the summer residence of some of the wealthiest people in the United States, local shops, museums, and restaurants are all closed as they are supposed to go out. working. The annual daffodil festival, an event that usually kicks off early at the start of the season, has been canceled as home stay orders continue until May 18.
“If this persists during the summer, it will have serious repercussions on tourism. In Nantucket, it is essentially the main source of income, “said William DeSousa-Mauk, spokesperson for the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce. “Our economy would collapse. “
Mark Snyder, owner of The Nantucket Hotel and Winnetu Oceanside Resort on Martha’s Vineyard, said he hadn’t had to fire any of his employees, even though his hotel in Nantucket was only open for essential travel and that the Martha’s Vineyard complex was completely closed.
“We have to be open in late June and so on, otherwise we will have problems,” said Snyder. “If we couldn’t open this summer, it would be painful. “
But money is not everything.
Compared to Maine, Massachusetts is a coronavirus hotspot: nearly 7 million people have had more than 62,200 coronavirus cases and 3,500 deaths, many of which are concentrated in Boston.
Nantucket and its neighboring chic island, Martha’s Vineyard, have managed to keep the virus away from their shores, with around 30 positive cases out of its 11,000 and 16,000 residents respectively. Both the islands and Maine are popular with New Yorkers, the state with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country.
The reopening should be a balancing act that prioritizes maintaining the health of local residents while ensuring that tourists can come and fuel the local economy. “There really is no other industry,” said DeSousa-Mauk.