Viewpoint: Amid a global pandemic, Vacationland is on hold

By Greg and Julie Veilleux

There’s a reason they call us Vacationland, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Year-round, Maine brims with travelers, boating in the summer, skiing at Sunday River in the winter, just driving from town to town looking at pretty-as-a-postcard images on weeks like this one. Families come from across the country – or just across the county – to see what we have to offer.

We know firsthand. As the owners of a home and garden store in Bar Harbor, one of Maine’s tourist hubs, our store is almost always filled with visitors who have come to experience the once in a lifetime beauty of Acadia National Park.

And here’s the thing – every visitor who comes isn’t just leaving footprints, but also dollars in our communities. They’re staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, buying goods at our home and garden store. That all creates good-paying jobs and helps Maine’s economy to thrive. In 2018 alone, 37 million people visited Maine, spending $6.2 billion. Altogether, our tourism industry employs tens of thousands of Mainers.

But right now, Vacationland is on hold. There are few things that encourage folks to travel less than a global pandemic. And while Maine might be doing better than most states when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus, our state’s economy certainly hasn’t been immune to the effects. The tourism industry, dependent on visitors coming from those other, COVID-hit states, has taken it on the chin.

The facts aren’t pretty. At the start of the year, before the pandemic hit, 70,000 Mainers were employed in the leisure and hospitality industry. In April, at the depths of the first wave, fewer than 29,000 were. And while that number has rebounded somewhat, more than a third of those 70,000 jobs are still gone. Not only has no other industry been hit as hard by the coronavirus as our tourism industry, but it isn’t even particularly close.

Here in Maine, Governor Mills and our state legislature have done what they can, but this is a national problem and it requires a national response. After all, we’re in this mess because of the failed response of President Trump, who downplayed the virus for months even though he knew it was lethal, praised China’s disastrous response in an attempt to escape some of the harm he caused Americans through his reckless trade war and told his supporters to drink bleach and not wear masks instead of listening to experts.

But if Trump’s response to the virus was a fiasco, his reaction to the economic recession that has occurred might be even worse. When he ran for president, he promised us he’d be the “dealmaker-in-chief,” but it’s been nearly two months since expanded unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans expired, and he’s spent more time on the golf course than at the negotiating table.

Trump can insist that our economy is surging back, but it’s just not true. Unless he and the rest of our supposed leaders in Washington get their acts together, it’ll be a while before the tens of thousands of Mainers whose jobs in the tourism industry are gone feel a surge. The expanded unemployment benefits went back into local economies and jump started our own businesses that were on life support. Mainers are about as independent as it gets, but we expect our leaders to lead, and failing to get a deal done to help rescue main street is not what we had in mind.

Enough is enough. If we’re going to rebuild our tourism industry and the thousands of jobs that have gone missing and resurrect our economy, we need a president with a plan. Luckily, we have a candidate who has one in former Vice President Joe Biden. Joe knows we need to listen to science, not hunches. We need to provide more relief to families and small businesses so that we can get our communities going again. And we need to make smart investments to build back better than we were before.

The Mainers I talk to feel assured at the idea of Joe in the White House. They know with his leadership, our economy will get going again and they’ll feel safe traveling. When folks are ready, they’ll be back traveling to Maine again and those tens of thousands of jobs in tourism and recreation will come roaring back.

After all, we’re Vacationland. The Donald Trumps of the world can come and go. But we’re not going anywhere.

Greg and Julie Veilleux are the owners of Window Panes in Bar Harbor

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