Midcoast Hospitality Group is making guests an offer they simply can’t refuse. It’s called “Pay what you can” as potential guests fill out an application and offer to pay what they can for a minimum two-night stay at Newagen Seaside Inn, Linekin Bay Resort, the Russell House and Sheepscot Harbour Village Resort. The promotion’s purpose is to fill vacant rooms during the early weeks of the 2020 tourist season.
The rooms were vacant in May due to Gov. Janet Mills’ state of emergency order. Stage 1 of Mills’ plan to reopen Maine began June 1. Maine’s lodges and inns were allowed to accept only in-state residents this month. This threatened to further hamper Maine’s tourism season without out-of-state tourists. In mid-May, Newagen Seaside Inn in Southport was the first of the four properties to initiate “Pay what you can.” General Manager Abby Fessenden found the idea while reading the Mount Desert Islander, a Bar Harbor weekly newspaper. While reading, she saw an Acadia Yurts advertisement. The Southwest Harbor business rents yurts (small circular tents) and tiny homes to vacationing tourists. Fessenden, a Hancock County native, contacted Acadia Yurts for more details on the innovative promotion. Faced with the prospect of more empty rooms in June, Fessenden adopted the promotion on a trial basis.
Eight days later, the Southport resort received over 500 applications. This led to Midcoast Hospitality Group implementing the promotion at its other properties. The four have received nearly 1,300 applications, according to Midcoast Hospitality Group Vice President of Marketing Erin Stodder. “We were looking to attract people who may never have been to the region before,” Stodder said. “I spoke to a nurse who was a first time guest. She was thankful for the opportunity to see the region’s beauty, and enjoyed her stay.”
The promotion has been so successful, Newagen and Linekin Bay are completely booked for June. The Russell House, recently opened for the season, is still taking applications for June and July, as is Sheepscot Village Harbour Resort. On June 7, Stodder reported Newagen had over 500 June applications. Linekin Bay had over 700. The Russell House had over 130 and Sheepscot Harbor had over 90.
So how does this promotion work? Potential guests fill out an application by selecting a minimum two-night stay with three potential dates and name their price. Each inn reviews the applications and notifies selected applicants of their decision. Applicants have five days to confirm their reservation.
Stodder explained the traditional tourist season runs from May to October, but June, July and August are the most important months. The promotion was designed to attract Mainers who either couldn’t afford a weekend retreat in the Boothbay region or didn’t want to endure congested traffic along U.S. Route 1. “We work with guests in finding a potential alternate date. It’s a lot like the game of Tetris,” she said. “The pricing has been all over. Some are low, but several are in the high range, as people want to help our small Maine businesses succeed during such a difficult time.”
Weekends are the most popular dates, but Stodder reported weekdays are also busy. The second challenge of spring 2020 was providing guests with a high level of protection at the resorts. Each facility’s dining rooms, health centers and pools are open. Each inn limits occupancy to each facility with the six-foot social distancing state guidelines enforced. Each facility is using its space to keep guests at a distance, especially during meal time.
“It’s a little easier at Newagen and Linekin Bay where there are both dine-in and outside options, but we are doing what we can to maintain public safety,” Stodder said.
“Pay what you can” is likely to continue for July and August, according to Stodder.