Mass tourism. and hospitality sectors ask for more state help – NBC Boston

The tourism and hospitality sector has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and faces a sharp decline in business that will take time to recover without further state action, executives told lawmakers on Friday. of Massachusetts industry.

A parade of speakers painted a dire economic picture at a Tourism, Arts and Culture Development Committee hearing to hear more about the impact of the pandemic. Widespread job losses and lower spending, they warned, could take years to rebound, impacting workers across the state as well as tax revenue.

Industry groups representing restaurants, hotels and motels, cultural organizations, event venues and tourism promotion urged the panel to increase spending on stimulus grants, advertising programs aimed at encouraging travel in Massachusetts and support for regional tourism boards.

“We are not going to be able to wish and pray and hope out of this pandemic,” said Martha Sheridan, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It just won’t happen. The only way out of this is to stay competitive and invest strategically in promoting tourism.”

The Baker administration has distributed more than $650 million in relief grants to about 14,400 businesses so far, and cultural nonprofits received nearly $10 million through a separate grant program in January. .

The federal government also launched a new $16 billion closed theater grant program on Thursday, aimed at helping live theater operators, theater producers, operators of live performing arts organizations, museum operators, movie theater operators and talent representatives affected by the mandatory closures.

Massachusetts is no longer on Maine’s list of travel advisories, and soon more places could join them, as Vacationland officials say vaccines make events and travel safer.

Industry leaders want the Legislative Assembly to complete these programs. A top priority many cited is a bill (SD 2105) that would direct at least $200 million of the billions in federal stimulus funds Massachusetts has received to help cultural organizations recover.

Funding would be distributed by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in the form of grants to nonprofit and for-profit cultural organizations that could be used for payroll, rent and other expenses, adapting programming to meet the COVID and investing in technology and infrastructure for reopening safety.

As of Friday, 51 lawmakers had co-sponsored the bill, drafted by Tourism, Arts and Culture Development Committee Co-Chair Sen. Edward Kennedy of Lowell.

Another major change that many have said they want to see is a clearer timeline for trade restrictions. Knowing when permitted gathering limits will increase would encourage many industry workers to return to the workforce, speakers said, and give event venues ample time to ramp up operations.

“If these employees don’t see that the number of gatherings is increasing and in fact the number of people they will be serving is increasing, which will have a direct corresponding increase in their pay, the desire to return to work for them might be less. “said Sheridan.

They also called on the Baker administration to release $4 million for regional tourism councils included in an economic development bill Governor Charlie Baker signed into law in January. That advice, Massachusetts Lodging Association President Paul Sacco said, plays a big role in converting pent-up consumer demand into spending in Massachusetts.

“Unless we do something like you heard from the RTCs, we will have a missed opportunity from June to September to capture some of this business,” he said.

While the industry has been hit hard across the country, the damage is particularly pronounced in Massachusetts. Leisure and hospitality, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lost 30% of its jobs from February 2020 to February 2021, a far larger share than any of the other nine categories.

North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Ann Marie Casie said projections indicate domestic travel will rebound faster than international travel, reaching 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

“We won’t see a full recovery of the entire tourism industry until 2024,” she said.

There are now 77 cities and towns in Massachusetts at the highest risk level for the coronavirus.

More than half of the Bay State’s 40,000 pre-COVID hotel jobs have either been cut or lost, while statewide lodging market occupancy has plummeted by almost half between 2019 and 2020, Sacco told the committee.

The restaurant industry lost $7 billion in sales in one year, according to Massachusetts Restaurant Association President Bob Luz. After initial closings in March 2020, when the state of emergency began, 3,400 restaurants in Massachusetts — about 23% of those in the state — never reopened.

Luz said legislative permission for the sale of alcohol to go has been a boon during the pandemic. Before the COVID era, take-out sales and deliveries typically accounted for 8-10% of revenue for most sit-down restaurants, but the share was as high as 50-60% in the winter, Luz said.

Non-profit cultural organizations that responded to a Mass Cultural Council impact survey have collectively lost $588 million in revenue since March 2020, and more than 2,900 artists and creators who also responded reported a personal revenue loss of $30 million.

Data tracked by the state shows the sectors continue to lag behind other industries, even as vaccinations boost growing business optimism.

After falling sharply at the start of the pandemic, overall consumer spending rebounded and in mid-March exceeded January 2020 levels by about 10%, according to figures that Under Secretary for Business Growth Mark Fuller presented at Friday’s hearing. Spending on restaurants and hotels, however, is still lagging more than 15% compared to January 2020, while spending on entertainment and recreation remains down around 45%.

Fuller said the disparities reflect “an extremely painful dislocation as overall spending has begun to return to more normal levels.”

The city will wait to beat the restrictions put in place on Monday until its test positivity rate stays below 2.75% for two straight weeks.

Massachusetts entered the fourth phase of the Baker administration’s economic reopening plan on March 22, allowing entertainment venues to reopen and pushing gathering limits for public places to 100 people indoors and 150 people outside. the outside.

Fuller told lawmakers it remains unclear how consumer behavior, critical to the business prospects of affected industries, will respond as restrictions are eased.

“It’s a huge dynamic impacted by the spread of COVID, impacted by restrictions and gradual reopening, impacted by how people perceive the safety of these activities,” Fuller said. “Are they excited to go out and spend? Are they excited to travel? Do they feel comfortable doing it? A lot of the recovery here as we look to the future is about this behavior of consumers and people feeling comfortable returning to some level of normal activity with COVID in mind.”

Several industry leaders have warned that the damage has significant implications for the state as a whole.

Travel spending fell 53% in Massachusetts — a bigger drop than the 38% for the entire United States — “translating into more than $15 billion in lost spending, $451 million in state tax losses and $234 million in tax losses for our cities and towns,” Casey said.

The losses probably also have a cascading effect. With fewer events or cultural activities going on, for example, restaurants and retail businesses have fewer potential customers moving around. In one report 2019Arts Boston found that arts and culture events draw more than four times as many attendees as all of Boston’s major sporting events combined.

“We know that arts and culture, tourism and the humanities generate a lot of revenue,” Massachusetts Cultural Council executive director Michael Bobbitt told lawmakers. “If we want to bounce back, we need to redouble our efforts and support these organizations even more.”

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