Two of Maine’s coastal tourism hotspots look past the pandemic

Last year, when Mainebiz spoke with hoteliers in the Central Coast and Lower East Maine areas for our cover story on “Hotel Business Records”, the picture was mixed for the season. shortened from 2020.

Here’s what we learned about 2021 from two owners as they prepared to retire for the year.

Managers intervene in an understaffed complex

In a typical year, Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg employs up to 150 or 160 people in peak season. Accommodations at the 450-acre Midcoast Vacation Village range from hotel rooms and cabins to a newly renovated 10-room lighthouse.

While there would have been enough work this year for 170 to 180 people, the port of Sebasco had to settle for 135 due to understaffing, according to Bob Smith, majority owner of the station and self-proclaimed custodian in head of the lighthouse for almost 25 years.

“Everyone had to work a little more than they wanted, with fewer days off and less personal time,” says Smith. “But everyone came together and we’re proud of how everyone put in the effort and kept a good attitude.”

Those who have taken on additional duties include managers who washed the dishes until late and even Smith and his wife, a former nurse.

“I’ve made more beds this year than I’ve made in my entire career, and that’s okay,” he says. “My wife worked as a critical care nurse for 40 years at Maine Med and she didn’t expect to work in the laundry, housekeeping or pro shop, but it was all on deck… You can’t asking your employees to work 70 hours a week and you only work 50, that doesn’t work.

Smith says housekeeping and dishes were two of the most difficult areas for staff, especially without the 20 seasonal workers from Eastern Europe he would hire in a typical year. This year there was only one from Eastern Europe and Smith managed to hire a few housekeeping people from Puerto Rico.

Forced by a lack of staff to keep its fine dining restaurant closed and only its casual pub and patio open, the resort has added options such as food trucks, lunch cruises in conjunction with Harpswell’s Dolphin Marina & Restaurant, and steakhouses in open air available to guests.

“We did a lot of creative things to make sure there were options,” Smith says.

Reflecting on a season that started in May and was scheduled to end on October 17, Smith describes the rainy July as a “mess,” but August and September are “awesome.”

“We could have made more income, we could have sold more rooms and certainly got a lot more income for food and drink if we had enough staff,” he says.

For 2022, he expects another busy year with many returning guests.

“As long as we can get a little more help from the seasonal workforce, we’ll be fine,” he says.

The wedding boom generates strong bookings

2021 has been a banner year for weddings at Aragosta at Goose Cove, a Deer Isle waterfront hotel with a fine dining restaurant. Up to 44 people can be accommodated on 22 mossy coastal acres in 10 private cabins and four suites.

Happy for the business of eight summer weddings, five of which were postponed from last year, owner Devin Finigan says it was also a lot to take on, involving many additional tasks for the staff.

“It rained so much this summer, every wedding had a tent,” she said as she took a break from cooking onions in the restaurant’s kitchen. “We also had to have a whole separate catering staff and use our terrace and restaurant team to move chairs and tables. It becomes exhausting.

Photo / Fred Field

Devin Finigan, owner and executive chef of Aragosta at Goose Cove, plans to build two more cabins on the Deer Isle property, bringing the seating capacity to 48.

It became more exhausting after the students left for the summer, reducing the wait staff from 14 to six at the end of September – with two fall weddings still to come.

Finigan, a Vermont native who is also the restaurant’s executive chef, told Mainebiz that the hotel has been full since early July with visitors from places like California and Canada.

At the restaurant, reservations are now required, although a small number of tables are reserved for guests staying there who may not have reserved a table. There’s also a new gift shop on the property that sells take-out food and drink, as well as ready-made meals that guests can order online, from champagne and cheese to a lobster picnic.

“We’re going to keep moving forward with some of the things we’ve introduced because of COVID, which is exciting,” Finigan said. “It has taken a long time to get to where we are.

His off-season plan: a culinary trip to Europe with his two daughters, then build two more cabins on his property to increase accommodation next year to 48.