PORTLAND, Maine — Bright skies and mild temperatures on Memorial Day 2022 had the streets in downtown Portland buzzing with a familiar sound. Summer tourism season is back and in full swing — but there are questions about how inflation could make an impact down the road.
The Maine Office of Tourism released a notice last week, indicating it anticipates another "strong year" for our state's tourism and hospitality sector. In 2021, the office reported about 10.1 million visitors from the U.S. and Canada between May and August. According to a recent AAA poll, six in 10 Americans are planning at least one summer trip, with 35 percent expected to travel more this summer than last.
"So far, traffic has been good," Dan Jurczak, bar manager at Portland Lobster Company in Portland, said about Memorial Day Weekend business, later adding, "My favorite part of the job is [that] people from all over the world come here."
Welcoming back visitors is exciting, but one constant stressor still looms in the background for businesses and customers alike — inflation.
"Prices have gone up on everything," Jurczak said. "Lobster meat is really expensive right now, but we’re trying our best to kind of keep it as low as we can and serve as many people as we can.”
Retail shop Wilbur's of Maine is in a similar position. Retail manager at the Freeport factory location Barbara Thompson said her team has had to increase price-tags because the cost of the products they need to make their goods has gone up.
"Unfortunately because of the price increase, that means we do have a price increase here," Thompson said. "[But, it] isn’t so bad. I mean, we have top-quality chocolate.”
Thompson said they had already seen visitors from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island as of Monday morning. She said she thinks inflation might just make visitors think twice about where they're spending their money.
"They may or may not buy a stuffed lobster [toy] or a t-shirt, just because of the cost of things – but they’re still coming," Thompson said.
Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, said he believes there are challenges ahead for the tourism industry.
"I don’t think the high cost of gas is necessarily going to prevent somebody from spending $50 to $100, or a little more than that, on a trip up here," Cameron said. "It may curtail a little bit of their spending habits once they’re here.”
He said his main concern lies farther down the road.
"I worry about what’s going to happen after this year and how long is a sustainable with the high cost of gas and inflation and so on," Cameron said.
Curtis Picard, CEO and president of the Retail Association of Maine, said people are still spending, but they're more cautious. He said the fact that inflation is across-the-board in most facets of life is making it challenging for people.
"If it does continue through the summer and into the fall, I think that’s going to be a real concern — that we're really going to enter a longer-term recession," Picard said. "I know folks are talking about that, so we’ll have to see what happens."
If you're planning to visit Maine this summer, you can find more information here.