During a pandemic-related furlough from his full-time job of writing and designing video games for a Los Angeles company, Shawn French of Limerick started a side gig of editing comics that has turned into a regular income source. He is now back at his full-time job, but is continuing his freelance work. Credit: Courtesy of Sue Stevens

A year ago, Amber Davis knew the coronavirus was about to dramatically affect the hospitality industry. She didn’t know it would push her from a job she loved into very different work.

Davis, who sold corporate retreats, wedding room blocks and other events for a Portland waterfront hotel, was at a training seminar in Georgia just before the pandemic reached Maine last March. Another sales manager told her customers were asking to postpone or get refunds.

“Each week we just kept seeing more and more,” said Davis, who lives in Winthrop. One of the more recent hires, she was laid off in May from what she described as a “great job at a great hotel.”

The pandemic had already erased 3 out of every 5 jobs in the hospitality and leisure industry by last April, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. The number of direct hotel jobs in Maine fell by 62 percent to nearly 4,500 from the beginning of the pandemic until September, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The industry could be one of the most affected by the pandemic reshuffling of the economy. Steve Hewins, executive director of the HospitalityMaine Education Foundation, is optimistic about the industry’s recovery, saying there is pent-up demand for travel and leisure similar to after the Sept. 11 attacks and Great Recession. But he worries about whether the industry can quickly rehire enough people when tourism demand returns.

“We’re trying to restart an industry that has a lot of people on the sidelines,” he said.

Davis said ongoing struggles in the hotel industry made her feel that finding a job was a bleak prospect. Like others during the pandemic, she changed jobs and is now a dispatcher at the Maine Department of Public Safety, a job referred by a friend. About half of U.S. adults who are unemployed, furloughed or laid off and looking for work are considering changing fields or occupations, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

One in four women are considering a career change, with about 20 percent interested in science and technology fields, a national MetLife survey last fall found. Some 58 percent of U.S. women said the pandemic negatively affected their careers.

A questionnaire answered by 27 Bangor Daily News readers found that about two-thirds have a different job than before the pandemic. Job changes included a journalist who became an antique collector, a nonprofit worker who became a wholesale seafood dealer and an advertising person who wanted to get into manufacturing work.

Davis said she likes her new job. The pay is about the same, including overtime at the dispatch job, and she doesn’t have to hustle as much as she did in sales. It’s similar to hospitality in that she can make a difference to other people. She doesn’t know if she will return to the hotel industry once it fully recovers, which experts say could be 2023.

“The pandemic helped me consider other things and get new life experiences,” she said.

Shawn French, a video game writer and designer from Limerick, is working more after a temporary layoff from his full-time job at an app and game development company. The layoff opened the door to do freelance work.

His side gig work includes editing comics such as The Electric Black, a comic about a cursed antique shop by two Mainers. French returned to his full-time job about a month ago., where he is the lead writer of the role-playing video game Epic Tavern. But he’s kept the side gigs.

“I work more now than before the pandemic,” he said. “I work on games Monday through Friday and comics on the weekend.”

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...