Tourism marketing groups ask for help from Congress

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 9:56 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The travel industry is taking a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some parts of the industry are getting financial help, tourism marketing organizations are saying they fell through the cracks.

City and state governments are allowed to provide these organizations some coronavirus relief for certain purposes, but the tourism marketing companies cannot apply directly for loan forgiveness programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. They do not qualify because they are considered quasi-government entities, or a 501(c)(6) organization.

“Every day is still a challenge,” said Dan Gibson, Senior Communications Director at Visit Tucson.

Gibson said the Visit Tucson tourism bureau is struggling. Visit Tucson has had to lay off 12 out of 42 employees--30 percent of the office--since the pandemic hit the U.S.

“We don’t know when we’re going to have new hires. It uncertain for the foreseeable future,” said Gibson.

Destination marketing organizations or DMOs like Visit Tucson advertise what a location has to offer, enticing people to visit and businesses to hold conventions. Without federal support, these companies may not be able to survive.

“We sort of work in a forgotten space,” said Gibson.

Visit Tucson is a DMO. They are considered a quasi-governmental organization so they do not qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was established by the CARES Act. The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27.

“It is critical right now. The whole industry is screaming from the mountaintops, calling for action, rattling the cages, everything we can do,” said Tori Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at the U.S. Travel Association.

Barnes said she and others in the travel industry are strongly lobbying Congress to include these destination marketing groups in the next round of relief legislation.

“Destination marketing organizations are the lifeblood of communities across the country,” she said.

“Every moment that Congress waits by not acting, it only exaggerates the problem and it means more and more people are laid off.”

The House and Senate have both expanded language in proposed bills that would allow DMOs to get some federal assistance. Negotiations on a bill are ongoing.

Barnes said the U.S. Travel Association is also advocating Congress to include more rapid and reliable coronavirus testing in the next legislation. She hopes more testing will help give people the confidence to travel again.

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