Illinois tourism industry facing obstacles amid rise in COVID-19 cases

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As the Illinois tourism industry struggles to get back on its feet, some are stressing that people need to feel safe in their venues in order to rebound.

The House Tourism Committee recently held a subject matter hearing on ways the industry can rebound from the pandemic.

The hotel industry may have been hit the hardest. Illinois is among the states that have lost the highest percentage of hotel jobs due to the pandemic and are still hurting even as travel starts to return to normal levels. Many blame the conventions held in Chicago that have yet to materialize from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt Murphy, who represents Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, said Illinois hotels lost $3.5 billion in 2020, and the recovery has been slow.

“Every single metric we measure in terms of hotel performance continues to lag, and even now, with some level of recovery, Illinois hotel revenue is still lagging only at about a 50 to 60% recovery,” said Murphy.

Murphy noted that hotel tax, prior to the pandemic, was one of the fastest growing tax sources for Illinois.

Rik Edgar, general manager of the Peoria Civic Center, said ticket sales have fallen off as of late and suspects its due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We can read the tea leaves,” said Edgar. “People are getting nervous, so the more we can do to make folks feel comfortable, and it’s much harder than dollars, but if we can do that, we can survive this.”

Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said it is critical for the tourism industry to remain open for business.

“We can’t have government-mandated shutdowns because we are not going to be able to recover,” said Butler. “We are going to have a hard enough time recovering as it is.”

Last week, the state announced $10 million dollars in grants will be made available aimed at revitalizing tourism and bringing back tourism attractions and festivals to the state.

The Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant program will help develop or enhance existing attractions, including museums, businesses, events and festivals. The Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity will utilize ARPA federal recovery dollars to provide grants ranging from $10,000 to $1 million and require a local match.

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