Tourism industry looks for help from state

Apr. 9—BOSTON — The tourism industry is pushing lawmakers for more help for hotels, attractions and other hospitality businesses that have been hammered by the pandemic.

On Friday, regional tourism officials told a legislative panel they need more marketing funds and other support to attract more visitors as the state reopens.

Ann Marie Casey, executive director of the North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said travel tourism is down more than 50{11d536d4648a1d7992f140edacb2464cafe66c34fb096b602f3cf7b0cd9b26cf} from normal levels in Massachusetts, which is a much bigger loss than the national average.

“That translates into more than $15 billion in spending losses, $451 million in losses to state taxes, and $234 million in tax losses to cities and towns,” Casey told the panel. “We want to work with you to safely and responsibly put heads in beds and generate this money back by ultimately exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”

Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, called on lawmakers to press for the release of $4 million in marketing funds that were included in an economic development bill approved last year. She said “the timing is of the essence.”

Sheridan has also asked Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to seek federal tourism grants and to boost funding for regional tourism bureaus, which has remained flat for several years.

Mark Fuller, undersecretary for business development in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, acknowledged the tourism sector has taken a big hit.

“Tourism has been particularly disrupted by COVID-19, and travel and tourism as a whole as well as our cultural institutions have been particularly battered,” he told the panel.

Fuller said grants and loans from the state and federal governments have buoyed thousands of businesses, but he acknowledged the long road to recovery.

“We are keenly aware of the challenges they face as they attempt to get back up and running,” he said.

While overall tourism spending is still “depressed,” he added, there is optimism in surveys showing many Americans are anxious to travel again.

“So people are looking to the future and hoping to return to safe travel, and that would bring back some tourism activity that is badly needed,” Fuller said.

Of course, the push to draw more visitors comes as public health officials warn of another surge in COVID-19 infections. Many public health experts are urging states, including Massachusetts, to slow the reopening process until more people are vaccinated.

Even so, tourism officials say they want details about when limits on the sizes of crowds for concerts and other large-scale venues will be lifted so regional councils can begin planning for summer events.

“We need to start moving the needle on those announcements and on the ability to gather safely,” Sheridan said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]