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Don’t neglect tourism marketing in next round of federal aid | READER COMMENTARY

An empty bench looks across Baltimore's mist-filled Inner Harbor, the loss of tourism a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. File. Businesses that market and promote such tourist attractions are hurting financially during the downturn.
An empty bench looks across Baltimore's mist-filled Inner Harbor, the loss of tourism a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. File. Businesses that market and promote such tourist attractions are hurting financially during the downturn. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 landscape, it has become more important than ever to remember the damage that has been wrought on our state’s tourism sector. I am the editor of Sports Destination Management, a national business-to-business publication that studies travel tournament trends, and I have seen firsthand the damage being done not just to the travel economy in Maryland (where I am based) but to the travel sector nationwide.

Destination marketing organizations (DMOs), such as convention and visitors bureaus, whose job it is to market cities to business and leisure travelers as well as sports commissions that attract travel tournaments to soccer parks, lacrosse fields, tennis complexes and indoor sportsplexes that host everything from youth basketball to regional racquetball have all struggled to stay afloat. A busy summer travel season in Maryland typically employs thousands in jobs from Ocean City to Deep Creek Lake to everything in between, but this year’s new reality has put many out of work. With restrictions in place and understandable traveler concerns, the summer season has not been at its usual levels, even while the remaining travel businesses and employees take safety precautions and implement new health and safety protocols in the face of opposition from those who refuse to see beyond “I want my old life back.”

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Unfortunately, the Paycheck Protection Program as it currently stands, despite being a critical lifeline for small businesses throughout the country to keep their doors open and people employed, is leaving behind its tourism organizations. DMOs, as 501(c)(6) organizations, are currently excluded from the program. The numbers are horrific. Travel businesses and organizations, 83% of which are small businesses, have experienced an unprecedented contraction due to COVID-19. A total of 8.1 million of the industry’s 15.8 million jobs (51%) have been lost so far. We cannot afford to lose more. Furthermore, the travel industry supports restaurants, stores and other entities in every city across the U.S.

The U.S. Senate’s latest relief and stimulus bill, the HEALS Act, which builds upon the good work of the HEROES Act introduced by the U.S. House, supports the expansion of paycheck protection to include DMOs (”Second stimulus check updates: Democrats reject White House offer for one-week extension of $600 weekly unemployment benefit, press for more sweeping bill,” July 30). We applaud Senate leadership for including these provisions in their opening legislative statement and we implore our senators to ensure these measures are nonnegotiable and included in the final package that passes through both chambers. It has not passed yet, though, and we are fearful that once again, tourism will be left behind.

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The stakes are high right now for the overall health of our economy and our workforce and as one of the primary drivers of economic benefits to our community through our efforts to attract visitors, we want the tourism industry to be in the position to do exactly that as soon as possible. Expansion of PPP for our organizations in our state and nationwide will enable us to dramatically contribute to the rebuilding of our economy.

Mary Helen Sprecher, Columbia

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