Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, the tourism and hospitality industry have encountered significant challenges. The largest crisis to hit our industry, we saw travel spending drop to historic levels in March and April 2020 due to the virus. Employees filed for record unemployment claims, sales tax revenue declined and U.S. Travel predicts Tennessee’s travel economy could see a 35-45 percent decline over last year. As the state’s second largest industry, restoring tourism in a safe manner is critical to restoring the lives and livelihoods of Tennesseans.
Over the last several weeks, the Tourist Development team has worked tirelessly alongside the Office of the Governor and the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group to develop a new relief program that will directly support tourism through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). I am pleased to share that today, those efforts resulted in the announcement of a $25 million program from the CRF to support our state’s tourism industry from the ongoing public health emergency. Of the total funding, $15 million will be directly designated for destination marketing organizations (DMOs) in all 95 counties. Programs will be created to support safe travel with messages of social distancing, face coverings and sanitization.
Additionally, Governor Lee announced an expansion of the Small Business Relief Program to include additional industries, with $83.5 million added to the initial $200 million allotment. This includes a number of businesses in our industry like caterers, mobile food services, convention and trade show organizers, travel agencies and travel arrangement services, sightseeing and tour operators, transportation services and more.
I want to say a special thank you to the many partners who have assisted us as we worked quickly to pull together a program we hope will have a positive and long-lasting impact on our industry. Tennessee’s tourism industry is resilient, and we look forward to promoting our businesses and safe travel to restore and rebuild jobs and revenue.
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