“Be kind, be patient, and have a Plan B”
ELLSWORTH — If the summer of 2020 was the pandemic summer, then this June, July and August could be called pandemic-lite.
“People still want to see some of the COVID protocols held in place, because the fear is not totally gone, even with vaccines,” Union River Lobster Pot owner/chef Brian Langley said. “That is an underlying driver to the summer.”
But for many, this summer is still a time to travel, after staying at home last year.
“We started to notice in January that Airbnbs are booked, and campground reservations were up 200 percent in January for the summer,” said Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gretchen Wilson.
After a less-than-stellar tourist season last year, that news would normally be welcome, but finding summer employees is proving more difficult than ever.
“The biggest concern I hear from the local businesses has to do with staffing,” City Economic Developer Janna Richards said. “They cannot find enough people to fill their positions.”
Factor in different pandemic precautions across America, and all of this could mean a summer of frustrated visitors and stressed-out business owners and employees. So, what’s a city to do?
“My goal is to mitigate the pressure,” Wilson said.
Maine lifted the mask or face covering mandate on May 24 except on public transportation and for children in schools and childcare. It is still recommended that those not vaccinated should wear masks. The lifting of social distancing and capacity limits indoors and out should bring an easier flow through stores, restaurants and outdoor venues. However, many local businesses are still requiring customers wear masks, with some eateries passing on indoor dining.
To help visitors adjust to a somewhat different Downeast summer, the Chamber, city officials, an Acadia National Park representative, and local business owners collaborated on a public awareness campaign. Cards and posters will be distributed to lodging establishments, restaurants and businesses. The campaign basically will advise visitors to have a backup plan if, for example, a restaurant is full when they arrive without a reservation, Wilson said. “It’s our biggest promotion for the summer: Be kind, be patient and have a Plan B.”
Richards noted that the idea is in line with what other area chambers are doing to manage visitor expectations.
“We also want to try to get the messaging online as that is another place people go to do research before they even arrive at their destination,” she added.
Up to 600,000 people pass through this area, between cruise ships, bus tours and summer residents, Wilson said. But this year, the Island Explorer bus service will operate on a curtailed schedule and capacity, with no trips from Trenton to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. (The service will operate on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula.)
“People are going to get off the plane and drive down here and want to use the Island Explorer and be told they can’t, it’s already full,” Wilson said. “That is going be, I think, a huge issue. I can’t even solve that one except to just let people know.”
Langley said his restaurant will continue with outdoor seating, like last year, but also offer table service, trying to address what he called a “mismatch” between state restrictions and the number of visitors expected to the area.
“Working with Gretchen [Wilson], we’ll have better communications between our hotels and accommodations, and places to eat, so people understand [the situation] when they get here,” he said. “What we don’t want to have happen is for people to come and not have the good time that our area is really known for.”
This story has been updated.