SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Guests were supposed to be checking in for a stay at one of Acadia Cornerstone’s properties on Monday but cancelled at the last minute, which added to Veena Gaines’s stress about what the repercussions of the novel coronavirus, COVID–19, might be.
She had received several calls on Monday following what seemed like a drastic social and political shift regarding the virus over the weekend. Mount Desert Island Regional School System closed for two weeks on Friday and several public organizations chose to shutter their doors, cancel events and postpone others indefinitely in the name of public safety.
“It’s going to be a brutal summer at this rate,” she said in a conversation with the Islander. “Nobody’s coming over, they are basically all cancelling. We are losing funds.”
It is difficult to tell at this point what the summer will bring, but many people are preemptively preparing for the possibilities.
“Stuff we booked early in the week, by Thursday they were telling us they were going to wait,” said Rebecca Richardson, who owns Bar Harbor Acadia Cottage Rentals about last week.
On the other hand, Richardson had heard from a few out of town folks whose travel plans outside the country had been cancelled and they were looking for a place within driving distance.
“They couldn’t go so they’re looking to come up here,” said Richardson about a customer with travel plans to South America. “People are talking about their reasons for coming and they don’t usually do that.”
For Carol Schaefer at the Davis Agency, there were plenty of calls coming in on Monday, but reasons for them were all over the place. Schaefer had received calls from people in larger east-coast cities looking to book a two-week stay on MDI as soon as possible for a reprieve. But, according to Schaefer, it isn’t unusual for folks to be visiting Acadia National Park this early.
“Certainly, over the past two years we’ve seen people come up earlier and earlier,” she said. “On the flipside, we’ve got people wondering about cancelling. There are questions about that as well. It’s just kind of a moving target.”
When asked if there was an increase in bookings at Atlantic Oceanside on Route 3, a year-round hotel, general manager Dede Daigle said, no.
“We’re seeing a lot of cancellations,” she added, “especially group cancellations.”
Sherman’s Bookstore is one of the few businesses open in Bar Harbor year-round.
“Every year people start coming up this time of year,” said Sarah Jackson who co-manages the store. “There’s definitely people from out of town here. I would guess [right now] 50 percent of our customers are from out of town.”
Although it seems like there are more out-of-state license plates, Elizabeth Bunker, who manages Acadia Hotel, thinks there are less people than normal.
“Compared to most other years at this time, our occupancy rate is about 50 percent,” said Bunker. “We usually are quite busy in March and April. Compared to this week last year, we’re down about 50 percent.”
While she is experiencing lower numbers, people who have made reservations are keeping them.
“A lot of our direct bookings are still coming,” said Bunker. “A lot of walk-ins too, people trying to get away from the chaos … Mostly New England, it’s mostly people who can drive here, which makes sense.”
So far, those who have booked a summer stay at Acadia Hotel are sticking with their plans.
“We’ve actually had no cancellations for the summer,” said Bunker. “So, that is a really good sign.”
Maybe those looking for a rental property for a week or more are having greater misgivings than those who need to get away for a night or two. Either way, the rental market is surely subject to fluctuate in response to the pandemic.
“People were supposed to come this week and I had to give them their money back,” said Gaines. “My phone calls right now are just calming down people … It is a doozy thing to go through.”