SOUTHWEST HARBOR–While growing up in Maine, Maine State Sea Kayak owner Brad Jordan’s family couldn’t afford to go on family vacations or excursions, but spent plenty of time enjoying the outdoors.
Over the last four years he has owned the outdoor adventure business, Jordan has been trying to figure out how to get more Maine residents in his kayaks.
A successful pay-what-you-can campaign, initiated by the owners of Acadia Yurts and Wellness Center, and later picked up by Jordan, may be one way to help Maine residents explore their state at a price they can afford.
“You get to stay in one of our yurts or tiny houses and name your price,” offered the owners of Acadia Yurts and Wellness Center on their website, focusing on the month of June. “We thought we might offer Mainers a staycation option to experience Acadia National Park and still remain within their budget.”
As a response to Governor Janet Mill’s April 28 decision on to lift some restrictions regarding COVID-19 but keep the 14-day quarantine in place for out-of-state visitors, Acadia Yurts launched their pay-what-you-can campaign on April 30. Their experiment was expected to span two weeks, but it was stopped after only a few days because of the enthusiastic response it received.
“We got so many applications that within 48 hours we had almost the whole property full,” said Karen Roper, who co-owns and operates the business with Aaron Sprague. “What we asked for was a two-night minimum. Most people are in the two-to-four night range. We have them from all over the state.”
Nearly 100 applications from people as far away as Presque Isle and Cape Elizabeth and as close as Ellsworth were received.
“We accepted 75 of them,” said Roper, adding that a few more continue to trickle in each day. “We have 20 families on a waitlist now.”
Jordan launched his pay-what-you-can campaign at the beginning of this week, and had received nearly 40 emails by Tuesday. Most of them were people asking if the option to pay what they could was legitimate.
“Everyone’s kind of blown away by that right now,” said Jordan about the response. “We really don’t get that many people from Maine, typically.”
When Roper and Sprague looked at their bookings for June prior to launching the campaign, they saw only two percent of them were Maine residents.
Now, the couple will be hosting a whole month of ‘Mainiacs.’
“We actually have a lot of families that have never been to Acadia before,” said Roper. “This was a way they could afford it.”
There are two tiny houses and seven luxury yurts on the Seal Cove Road property that borders Acadia National Park. An average stay in June normally costs $150 a night. Offers in the applications for ‘pay what you can’ ranged from $25 to $175 a night. Choosing guests from the throng of applications was not based on their offer, Roper explained. They ended up booking folks in a first come, first served fashion.
“We looked at the average and thought it was a total success,” said Sprague about what they figured to be $80 per night per booking for the month.
“It was twice as much as we would have made if we were closed,” Roper added.
Prior to following their lead, Jordan, who is also located in Southwest Harbor, was not feeling very optimistic about the 2020 season.
“We had a lot of reservations for this season that have mostly canceled,” said Jordan, who had expanded some aspects of his operation in anticipation of a strong year. “We were very optimistic, but a lot of that was diminished.”
Normally during the month of June, Jordan plans for four trips a day, but he is not expecting to do that this June. A wildlife tour on the ocean during a regular season is $65 per person.
“We do have six feet in the kayak between people,” Jordan pointed out about some of his fleet. “I can take out a maximum of 10 people per trip.”
Most of those responding to his pay-what-you-can campaign were from the Bangor area, he said.
“I think we’re going to get a lot of people who are working too much during the season,” said Jordan, who is expecting to have a smaller number of people on staff this year.
While he has yet to have a lot of people book a trip for June, the Maine State Sea Kayak website is now set up to receive reservations at a pay-what-you-can rate.
“I haven’t had many offers for what they could pay,” said Jordan, noting some have offered $20 and another offered $100. “I think it’s going to be all over the place. I’m not sure yet.”
If this ends up being a success, it may not be the last opportunity for folks to stay in a luxury yurt or take a sea kayaking trip at the price they offer versus the one listed.
“I do hope to be able to do something like this in the future, especially during the slow season,” said Jordan, which is a sentiment Roper and Sprague echoed. “This might be a way we can get more business in our shoulder months.”
Other businesses on Mount Desert Island are making adjustments to adhere to the government’s requirements in an attempt to collect even a portion of their seasonal income. Hanscom’s Motel and Cottages, located on Route 3 in Bar Harbor, is offering tiered discounts for essential workers and Maine residents for the entire season.
While the 2020 season on Mount Desert Island still has many unknown factors, there are some businesses that are thinking outside the box in order to continue operating.
“It would be silly not to offer the kayaks that would be on the ground,” said Jordan. “I would rather have them on the water.”