Server Sarah O'Neil balances an order while coming out of the kitchen at DiMillo's restaurant on the Portland waterfront on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

After a historic drop in visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Maine’s tourism industry is optimistic about this year as the summer season dawns.

But there is a problem: There were 16,000 fewer people employed in the food and lodging industry as of spring 2021 than there were before the pandemic hit, according to state data, which would challenge the industry’s ability to respond to high demand as the tourism season kicks off on Memorial Day.

The reasons for this gap are likely complex. Hotels were effectively forced to close under state orders and restaurants were limited to take-out service during the early part of the pandemic. The interest group HospitalityMaine is targeting unemployed workers in the industry with a new advertising campaign that aims to attract workers back, with one survey of their members finding many struggling to hire despite offering higher wages than before.

While some have blamed enhanced unemployment benefits for labor shortages, a 2020 study from Yale University found that they were not a disincentive to returning to work. Maine also reinstated traditional work requirements for unemployment benefits on Thursday. In addition, many workers may have switched industries or taken jobs with less-demanding hours.

We want to hear from workers who left the hospitality industry during the pandemic to see what is happening on the ground. Did you leave for better pay or a better schedule? What would make you come back? Help us by taking the survey below.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...