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Cloudy days ahead for hard-hit vacation rentals

By Kendra Caruso | May 13, 2020
Thick clouds move over Park Row cottages in Bayside, Northport, May 7. The village is expecting a decrease in summer visitors because of the coronavirus.

Belfast — Vacation rental owners across Waldo County are suffering a loss of income because most tourists or seasonal renters will not have time for a two-week quarantine before being able to enjoy the area’s amenities.

Camden Hills Realty owner John Burgess said his company has put all its rental properties on hold until September and issued a full refund to those who had already booked. He said he made the decision carefully, considering what the industry would look like through the season.

“We were a little uncertain whether or not the local services could deliver a good guest experience,” he said. “… To provide a guest a good experience, a Maine experience, it’s going to be nearly impossible.”

He was concerned renters would not be able to enjoy local attractions after waiting in a 14-day quarantine and the health risks might overburden local hospitals. He was concerned about the ability to thoroughly clean each property between guests or determine their level of health.

“So, there’s no way to determine their level of health, and they have no way of determining our level of health,” he said.

Canceling this early in the season means his company will lose about $160,000 worth of business, he said. But he said larger realty companies are losing more profit. He is still selling properties, but said resales and seasonal home sales are down.

He said heavily leveraged property owners could be at risk the most from a decrease in summer renters. “I think it’s going to be an interesting summer,” he said. “I’ve read articles saying it’s going to be a little bit alien.”

A screeching halt

Maine Tourism Association Chief Operating Officer Alison Sucy said many Maine businesses were gearing up for the summer tourist season, but it all came to a screeching halt in March when the coronavirus shut most of the industry down.

Travel spending during the week of April 25 was down 89% in New England, according to the U.S. Travel Association, and Maine travel spending is down by $79 million compared to this time last year.

Sucy said losing rental income in July or August can mean property owners might not be able to pay bills through the winter. She said last year Maine saw 37 million visitors, but there will definitely be a decrease in tourism over the summer this year.

The most important thing for the industry this year is to make tourists and visitors feel comfortable and safe while visiting, she said. She said businesses should adhere to CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Northport Village Corp. President John Spritz said he would normally be in Bayside right now getting things ready for summer visitors and residents, but he has had to connect with people via Zoom from his Portland home, a coronavirus hotspot, in an effort not to spread the virus.

People already in Bayside have reported to him a lower number of people than normal at the village, though he said usually things don’t pick up until the beginning of July.

“When I’m talking to people in general, it isn’t yet affecting things, but yet again, we haven’t really hit the heart of summer in Bayside,” he said.

Bayside Cottage owner Jennika Lundy said she gets a lot of repeat visitors every year and that many of her week-long renters canceled their reservations because of the mandated two-week quarantine.

Gov. Janet Mills issued an order that all out-of-staters must self quarantine for 14 days after they enter the state. Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton said the governor’s order is confusing and he does not know how it could be enforced.

Uncertainty discourages renters

Lundy said many renters do not even want to commit to dates later in the summer because of the uncertainty about the virus. She said a decrease in the rental market "can be devastating" for property owners who rely on summer income.

“This is when people like myself make our annual income and people don’t pay until they come, so it’s really, really hard,” she said.

Spritz said Bayside's Board of Overseers created a task force to look into how the community can respond to the coronavirus. He said it is looking closely at what policies Northport and Belfast are developing in regard to public spaces.

“We’re fortunate to have Belfast next door and Northport,” he said. “So, we have two places to look to as we move forward.”

He said the primary issues are how to regulate gatherings at the public hall and dock, which he said attracts many boaters and swimmers.

“Ultimately it is going to come down to asking people to use common sense and what the state’s CDC says,” he said.

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The waterfront in Bayside is not expected to see its usual number of tourists this summer, as many have been discouraged by concerns about the coronavirus and the governor's mandated 14-day quarantine for people coming from out-of-state. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at waldo.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at waldo.villagesoup.com/donate.
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