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Tourism industries fight for sustainability, look to state and federal funding

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The tourism industry is taking a huge hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. In our region, 35 percent of people who filed for unemployment last month lost their jobs in leisure and hospitality fields. Local leaders got together on Friday to look for a long term solution.

Revenue for retail, restaurants, hotels and attractions are at an all time low.

"Think of places like the Coronado Theater or the BMO Harris Bank Center where large gatherings are just not currently possible," said Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO John Groh.

Groh says while the economy is in a recession many businesses in the tourism industry are in a depression.

"We run out of a lot of food right now because food isn't coming in to us," said Lucha Cantina Owner Joshua Binning.

"The travel and tourism industry is important here. It employs a lot of people. It generates $400 million in economic activity. That's other peoples' money coming into our community. We want to get back to that place. We want to do so safely and sustainably," said Groh.

Business owners like Binning are asking local, county and state officials for resources.

"Because things aren't going to go back to the way they were pre-COVID. So there are some physical things in our restaurants that need to happen. Whether it be changing our to-go set up or things like that, having access from the Small Business Association to low-interest long-term loans," said Binning.

The RACVB says it's looking at ways to put funding into marketing like the Clean Hands Open Doors Pledge which hopes to instill confidence in customers that a business is safe to go to.

"We're asking our federal delegation to look at a travel recovery incentive. A potentially nationwide, multiyear tax credit for individuals taking business trips or leisure trips primarily," said Groh.

Groups are preparing so that when capacity restrictions lift tourism industries will be on the same playing field.

The RACVB says outdoor attractions are meeting expectations this summer but says plans should be in place before the winter months because social distancing guidelines will make things harder.

Cassandra Bretl

Multimedia Journalist
Cassandra is the morning reporter for 13 News Today.
She joined the WREX team in July of 2019 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee with a major, minor and a certificate.
She is excited to bring her skills back to the 815 where she is originally from.
You can contact Cassandra at cbretl@wrex.com

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