Tourism industry calls for aid as coronavirus shuts down travel

Hotels, airlines, car rental companies and other tourism industry businesses are watching the industry crash as the nation acts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Customers are evaporating. Cancellations are flooding in. Hotel occupancy was down 24 percent in early March compared with last year, according to STR, a global hotel data research firm.

Now, state and national public health officials are recommending that citizens should avoid “discretionary travel” and meetings or gatherings of 10 or more people. The situation will only get worse, industry officials said.

“Millions of people could get laid off in the next few days, not weeks,” American Hotel and Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers said during a press call with reporters on Tuesday.

Millions of travel-related jobs disappearing 

Congress is piecing together a major economic stabilization package to help.

Relief is needed quickly, travel industry leaders said. A posting on the U.S. Travel Association website cites research from Oxford Economics that predicts 3.6 million travel-related jobs will disappear by the end of June.

Travel spending is expected to decline by $355 billion this year, the research indicates.

“Unlike past economic slowdowns, the steep and sudden decline in travel is more analogous to a virtual shutdown of the travel economy,” it states.

Arizona industry in low spirits 

In Arizona, where tourism pumps more than $24 billion annually into the economy, the industry mood is low. The cancellation of baseball spring training alone is projected to remove $75 to $100 million from the economy this season.

More than 300,000 direct and indirect jobs rely on tourism here, said Kim Sabow, president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association.

“The health and well-being of the public is first and foremost, and our industry is happy to see strong actions to address it, but we also have to consider the resulting economic fallout,” Sabow said.

“Although we are still compiling specific data from our members, the cancelation of major events and the new CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines to help stop the spread will continue to adversely impact the travel industry in Arizona and there must be policy steps to address that.”

Relief measures approved 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved an economic package to help employees and businesses in the travel and other sectors that are seeing significant losses in employment and commerce.

The package provides sick leave pay, free COVID-19 testing, increased unemployment and food stamp benefits, and help with medical bills for people affected.

Economic stabilization package vote to come any day  

The White House and Congress also are working on a $1-trillion economic stabilization package. It would provide direct payments to taxpayers and loans for businesses.

Included is $50 billion for secured loans for the airline industry, and another $150-billion for secured loans or loan guarantees for other parts of the economy, according to an outline of the package in The New York Times Wednesday.

It would allow for the use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund, an emergency reserve account that is usually used for intervening in currency markets, to cover those costs, and also temporarily allow it to guarantee money market mutual funds.

Checks to Americans, loans for small business 

In the proposal, the Treasury Department would receive authority to send two $250 billion rounds of checks directly to American taxpayers, the first on April 6 and the second May 18.

A proposed program to increase loans to small businesses also would allow any employer with 500 employees or fewer to receive loans equaling six weeks of their payroll up to $1,540 per employee under the condition that companies must keep paying their employees for eight weeks after receiving the loan.

A vote on the stabilization package is expected any day.

Arizona eligible for SBA disaster loans 

Affected businesses also can qualify for low interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Arizona is one of the first states eligible for low-interest federal disaster loans to help small businesses suffering financial harm from the virus. The loans are made possible through the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act recently signed by President Trump.

Upon a request received from a state’s or territory’s governor, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering the loans to designated states and territories.

Small businesses, private non-profit organizations, small agricultural cooperatives, and small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses, it said. More information is available at SBA.gov/disaster.

Arizona Office of Tourism updates  

Arizona’s Office of Tourism has compiled resources for businesses and travelers during the health crisis.

Before heading out to travel, it advises checking its website for updates or the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories.

As an alternative to leaving the state, it is encouraging local residents to go outside and explore Arizona while still maintaining social distancing.

“Like destinations around the world, Arizona is feeling severe impacts from COVID-19 on our economy and especially the tourism industry,” said Office of Tourism Director Debbie Johnson. “Our top priority right now is connecting all of our tourism industry partners with resources to help them weather this unprecedented storm.”

Coronavirus cases in all states now 

The coronavirus outbreak began in China at the end of December and has quickly spread across the globe. In the U.S., more than 8,000 cases have been confirmed and about 100 deaths.

In Arizona, 265 people had been tested as of Wednesday. Fifteen cases are confirmed and 102 are pending. A total 148 have been ruled out.

Worldwise, about 218,00 cases have been confirmed. About 8,800 deaths have been reported. While children and young people can become seriously ill from the virus, those most affected are people older than 70 and individuals with underlying health conditions like diabetes and heart and lung disease.

Resources for businesses, citizens to stop the virus

National and local organizations and public health officials are providing information and guides for individuals and industry to reduce the spread of the virus.

Updates and advice are available in many forms including on the CDC and the Arizona Department of Health Services and Arizona Chamber websites.

For the business community specifically, the CDC has issued guidelines for employees to prevent the spread at: guide for employers.

What to do if you think you should be tested for COVID-19

Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Your healthcare provider will work with the local health department and ADHS to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.

For more answers to frequently asked questions and information about the COVID-19 response in Arizona, go online to azhealth.gov/COVID19.

 

This story was first published at Chamber Business News.