Homebound travelers desperate to venture out for the first time in months are confronting a vacation landscape this summer that may require coronavirus tests and even quarantines.
State governments from Maine to Hawaii are trying to strike a balance between containing the virus and encouraging out-of-state visitors to spend their cash on hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
The measures have been censured by many in the tourism industry, who fear visitors will choose to wait things out until they can vacation without worrying about state-imposed quarantines or tests.
Some states like Hawaii have settled on quarantines. Maine, Alaska and Vermont have some version of a testing alternative.
In “Vacationland,” as Maine dubs itself, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills thought she was doing the tourism industry a favor by providing an alternative to the 14-day quarantine. Visitors can skip the quarantine altogether if they can show they’ve tested negative for the virus within 72 hours before arrival.
But some innkeepers and restaurateurs think the measure falls short of what is needed to attract tourists and salvage their summer season.
“We don’t think visitors are going to jump through hoops like that. They’ll just choose another destination,” said Steve Hewins from HospitalityMaine, the state’s tourism trade group.
Democratic Hawaii Gov. David Ige extended the state’s mandatory two-week quarantine for all arriving travelers, even as the state scrambles to produce a screening process that could allow some travelers to return.
In Florida, visitors from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are required to quarantine. New York, meanwhile, is considering requiring Florida visitors to quarantine.
Travelers to Alaska who are tested upon arrival are allowed to avoid further quarantine if they test negative. But they’re encouraged to limit their activities until they obtain a second negative test result.
In Vermont, visitors can cut short the two-week quarantine if they get a test after a week that comes back negative.
“There is pent-up demand, people are wanting to come to the state,” so anything to encourage travel is a good thing, according to Tim Piper, president of the Vermont Inn and Bed and Breakfast Association.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, is requiring visitors to attest to having quarantined at home for 14 days before staying at a hotel or other lodging property. That idea was adopted after the state rejected the idea of forcing tourists to quarantine.
Safety concerns are real in Maine, the state with the nation’s oldest population.
Maine, which touts its lobster, lighthouses and rocky shore as attractions, depends heavily on tourism. Its population of 1.3 million swells with 37 million visitors during a typical year.
Visitors can avoid a quarantine by being tested before they arrive, or they can reduce the quarantine’s duration by being tested after arrival. But the state is encouraging visitors to test before arrival. Vermont and New Hamsphire residents are exempted from the rules.
Maine innkeepers say the tests are burdensome because they’re potentially costly — and not readily available.
At the Cod Cove Inn, owner Ted Hugger doubted that tourists will pony up for the tests, which cost $150 if paid out of pocket. He also questioned whether tests will keep people safe since those 18 and under and traveling with adults are exempt.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s not a viable option.”
Jeremiah Hawkins, 72, of New York, said the changes are making him rethink his August visit to the Maine coast. He said it’s not easy to get tests, especially within the 72-hour window before arrival.
“It’s draconian,” the retired film executive said. “Why do I want to go there if no one wants me?”
Hewins, of HospitalityMaine, winces at the idea of a teenage hotel desk clerk having to turn away families with reservations who’ve driven hours to vacation in the state.
He prefers the approach in neighboring New Hampshire, which has something closer to an honor system for visitors.
More than 2,800 people have tested positive and more than 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Maine, modest numbers compared to hard-hit states.
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