A lot has changed since February, when Stacie and Al Crocetti found out that their Hardy Boat Cruises had won the 2020 Governor’s Award for Tourism Excellence.
In March, the coronavirus pandemic plunged the Crocettis’ New Harbor-based business into uncertainty about if and how they could operate their boats during the season. Ultimately, the couple decided to continue ferry service to Monhegan and “puffin watch” boat tours, but with ticket sales restricted to 48 per boat, less than half their normal passenger capacity.
Though the award has not eliminated the anxieties brought on by the pandemic, the Crocettis hope that it might help attract visitors from Maine and nearby states who might not otherwise think to visit Monhegan or go on a puffin tour.
The business officially received the award in late June. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, the award honors one business each year that is “a combination of all that epitomizes a true hospitality leader – a business, organization or person with a steadfast commitment to employees, customers and community as well as to the tourism industry in Maine overall.”
Stacie Crocetti found the award humbling. For her, the honor means more than just recognition of her small business.
“I really feel like I’m representing, specifically, ecotourism in the state,” she said. “We make a living off a healthy and clean environment, and this is like a reminder of the importance of that for Maine.”
The couple was due to receive the honor at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism Awards in April. When the pandemic struck in March, the state moved the conference online, then canceled it altogether. At that point, though, the Crocettis had more pressing worries.
“We weren’t even sure we were going to open,” Stacie Crocetti said.
Once they decided to go ahead and open, other unknowns remained, as Maine’s tourism and hospitality industry continues to suffer daunting losses.
“We just really didn’t know how many people were going to come,” Al Crocetti said.
Before they opened, Stacie and Al Crocetti had a virtual meeting with their seasonal employees, many of whom have worked with Hardy Boat for years. Stacie Crocetti recounted the difficult but frank conversation that followed.
“It was hard to look people in the eye and know that you couldn’t guarantee how many hours they were going to get, when they depend on this for their summer paycheck,” she said. “It was a huge burden and huge responsibility. It felt crushing.”
So far, business has been slow, but the Crocettis are optimistic that warm weather in July will draw in more sightseers.
Many of Hardy Boat’s customers this summer have been Mainers taking advantage of deals for in-state travelers at Monhegan inns to, in Stacie Crocetti’s words, “state-cation” on the island, perhaps for the first time.
“The demographic is definitely different than normal,” Al Crocetti said of this season’s customers. “We know that because they’re very vocal about being from Maine.”
Stacie Crocetti has a guess why.
“In a way, they have this sense of pride about helping out the state’s economy,” she said.
Because ferries like Hardy Boat are legally considered “public spaces,” state law requires all guests to wear face masks for the duration of the voyage. The Crocettis reported that all their customers so far have been happy to follow the rule.
“People have been amazing,” Al Crocetti said. “They want to get out and be on the water and they’re willing to do whatever it takes.”