Mass tourism sector calls on state for more aid | New


The tourism and hospitality sector has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, facing sharp declines in activity that will be slow to recover without further state action, industry executives said on Friday. to legislators.

A parade of speakers described dire economic conditions during a Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee hearing to learn more about the impact of the pandemic. Widespread job losses and falling spending, they warned, could take years to rebound, affecting workers statewide as well as tax revenues.

Industry groups representing restaurants, hotels and motels, cultural organizations, event venues and tourism promotion urged the panel to increase spending on salvage grants, advertising programs to encourage travel to Massachusetts and supporting regional tourism councils.

“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 is to stay competitive and invest strategically in promoting tourism.


Total consumer spending in Massachusetts in March was about 10% higher than in January 2020, but it remained 15% below that level for restaurants and hotels and 45% for entertainment and restaurants. recreation, according to data presented by Undersecretary of Business Growth Mark Fuller. a committee hearing on Friday.

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

The federal government also on Thursday launched a new $ 16 billion closed venue subsidy program to help theater operators, theater producers, operators of performing arts organizations, operators of museums, theater operators and talent representatives affected by mandatory closures.

Industry leaders want the legislature to complement these programs. One top priority that many have cited is a bill that would channel at least $ 200 million out of the billions in federal stimulus funds Massachusetts received to help cultural organizations recover.

The 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, tailoring programming to deal with COVID and by investing in technology and infrastructure to reopen safely.

As of Friday, 51 lawmakers had co-sponsored the bill, drafted by Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee co-chair Senator Edward Kennedy de Lowell.

Another major change that many have said they want to see is a clearer timetable for trade restrictions. Knowing when allowed collection limits will increase would encourage many tipped workers in the industry to return to the workforce, speakers said, and give event venues enough time to speed up operations.

“If these employees do not see that the number of gatherings is increasing and that in fact the number of people they will serve is increasing, which will lead to a corresponding direct increase in their wages, the desire to return to work for them may 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 signed in January by Governor Charlie Baker. These tips, said Paul Sacco, president of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, play an important role in converting pent-up consumer demand into spending in Massachusetts.

“Unless we do something like you heard from BTI, we will have a missed opportunity from June to September to grab part 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 their jobs from February 2020 to February 2021, a much larger share than any of the other nine categories.

North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Ann Marie Casie said projections indicate that 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.

More than half of the 40,000 hotel jobs in Bay State before COVID have been laid off or cut, while the occupancy rate in the statewide accommodation market has plummeted by half from 2019 to 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 the initial closings in March 2020 when the state of emergency began, 3,400 restaurants in Massachusetts – about 23% of those in the state – have never reopened.

Luz said legislative permission to sell take-out alcohol had been a boon during the pandemic. Before the COVID era, take-out sales and deliveries typically made up 8-10% of revenue for most sit-down restaurants, but the share rose to 50 or 60% in winter, Luz said.

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

Data tracked by the state shows that sectors continue to lag behind other industries, even as vaccinations are sparking growing optimism from companies.

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

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

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 in outside.

Fuller told lawmakers it was still unclear how consumer behavior, critical to the business prospects of affected industries, would respond as restrictions ease.

“This is a huge dynamic impacted by the spread of COVID, impacted by restrictions and the gradual reopening, impacted by how people perceive the safety of these activities,” Fuller said. “Are they excited to go out and spend?” Are they keen on traveling? Do they feel comfortable doing this? Much of the recovery here as we look to the future is about this consumer behavior and making people feel comfortable returning to some level of normal activity with COVID in mind. “

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

Travel spending fell 53% in Massachusetts – a larger drop than the 38% for the United States as a whole – “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 cities, ”Casey said.

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

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


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