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As Maine’s summer tourism season approaches, an old problem resurfaces: not enough workers

“The competition for these employees is tremendous”

PORTLAND, Maine — Pandemic or no pandemic, one problem for the Maine tourism industry persists: It can’t find all the people it needs to clean rooms, wash dishes, tend bar and wait on tables.

“We have restaurants and hotels that have put an advertisement out for a very good job that they’re getting no responses for,” says Matt Lewis, the president and CEO of the trade group Hospitality Maine. “The competition among members for these employees is tremendous.”

It’s not a new challenge. In previous summers some restaurants in Maine that wanted to be open all week have instead operated five or six days because they couldn’t hire enough workers.

Hospitality Maine is trying to tackle the problem. It’s working on an educational campaign aimed at getting college students “to look at hospitality for their careers,” Lewis says. “And hopefully after their education they’ll spend their professional career in Maine.”

For now, the more pressing challenge for the Maine tourism industry will be getting back on its feet for the crucial summer season after the year of Covid. Lewis, who talks to lodging and restaurant owners around the state, is getting feedback that is “cautiously optimistic,” although bookings are uneven.

“I’m hearing parts of the state—the midcoast, southern Maine, some of the larger resorts, [Bar Harbor]—are seeing large upticks in reservations and they’re seeing higher demand,” he says. “But we have to be realistic. There are parts of the state that are not enjoying that bounce quite yet.”

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