Visitors walk on a busy sidewalk, Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine restaurant and lodging revenue in May rose compared with last year, reflecting a strong start to the tourism season while the industry is still fighting to recover from the pandemic.

Restaurants saw taxable sales rise almost 8 percent to $281.4 million in May compared with the previous year, according to the latest state data. Lodging taxable sales were up more than 17 percent to $128.4 million in the comparable time.

The rises were even higher when compared with April sales, with restaurant taxable sales up 17 percent and lodging up almost 62 percent.

It is good news for the state, because those two sectors are a big part of the tourism industry, a major economic contributor. Tourism had a total economic impact of almost $14.5 billion in 2021, up 61 percent over the first year of the pandemic marked by economic restrictions. The industry supports about 143,100 jobs, about 21 percent of employment in the state.

“This is very good news,” Matt Lewis, CEO of the industry group HospitalityMaine, said.

He still expects some restaurants to close temporarily or completely because they still are struggling to get enough staff to stay open for full hours. He said many restaurants did not get grants from the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and the U.S. Senate in May voted down an effort to replenish the fund.

Restaurant and lodging businesses are still showing strong recoveries from their pandemic lows in April 2020, when strict COVID-19 travel and health restrictions were in place. During that month, restaurant taxable sales fell precipitously to $85.6 million and lodging was just under $10 million, with the hospitality industry losing around $1 billion in taxable sales in 2020.

The hot tourism area of Bar Harbor saw restaurant taxable sales of about $1 million in May 2020, but those rose sharply to $8.6 million last year and $10.5 million in May 2022. Lodging taxable sales were $462,000 in May 2020, but rose to $8.9 million last year and $10.3 million this year.

Still, Lewis said some HospitalityMaine members are reporting that parking lots are less busy now than last year and occupancy rates are lower than last year. Fall bookings at hotels are strong, possibly because of makeups for postponed weddings and fall foliage tours, he said. Inflation-related price hikes also are playing a role.

“The growth in prices will help most places exceed last year,” he said. “But we’re not out of the woods yet.”