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Pandemic a blow to Baltimore’s tourism industry

University of Texas El Paso students, Katie Salinas, left, Estefania Vazquez and Carlos Munoz take a group selfie at the Baltimore Inner Harbor while sightseeing after a weekend conference with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers in 2015. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

University of Texas El Paso students, Katie Salinas, left, Estefania Vazquez and Carlos Munoz take a group selfie at the Baltimore Inner Harbor while sightseeing after a weekend conference with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers in 2015. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore’s tourism promotion agency expects COVID-19 to cause the loss of $7 million in revenue and taxes over the next three months .

Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, shared the figure with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young Tuesday at the Baltimore Convention Center. Young and Gov. Larry Hogan visited the facility that the National Guard is partially converting into a makeshift hospital to deal with the pandemic.

“We looked at some financial analysis for April, May and June, and that’s going to be about $7 million,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson’s news, however, didn’t outwardly faze Young. The mayor quickly pivoted to the impact of the virus on the city’s overall finances.

“You talk about a budget, we’re going to be over a $100 million in the hole,” Young said.

While the federal government is considering bailouts for major corporations, Young told Hutchinson, it needs to do the same for the nation’s cities.

“We’re bailing out major corporations because (President Donald J. Trump) says that’s good for business. So is bailing out cities,” Young said.

The loss Hutchinson was referring to, according to Visit Baltimore,  is from hotel tax and the Baltimore Tourism Improvement District.   In a state on Tuesday night Hutchinson said the revenue loss will have a “big impact” as the organization builds its fiscal year 2o21 budget.

“These are unprecedented and challenging times for hoteliers, restaurateurs, the travel industry, the country and the world. We know COVID-19’s impact on the travel industry and the whole U.S. economy is going to be very significant, so Visit Baltimore is looking at our Smith Travel Research (STR) hotel tax projections for the last quarter of our fiscal year.” Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said.

Speaking to news media after the exchange with Hutchinson, Young portrayed the city as operating relatively smoothing with 49% of employees working from home as a result of the virus outbreak.

He commended the governor for issuing the executive order Monday closing businesses deemed unessential and said he advocated for pushing the Small Business Administration to do more to support businesses hurt by the pandemic.

Young then reiterated his stance that the federal government needs to consider measures to help cities mitigate the damage to their budgets as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the outbreak, he said, revenues generated from hotel and sales taxes are down. He also mentioned the city being hurt by a lack of tourists because of the pandemic.

The loss of revenue would be “devastating” for Baltimore’s budget, Young said, noting that such is the case for cities and local jurisdictions across the U.S. and Maryland.

The mayor also said the federal government needs to consider enacting policies that help nonprofits and churches to stay open.

“So there’s a number of things that we need, and we need a president that is going to look out for the entire country and make sure that we’re all made whole,” Young said.

The COVID-19 impact on Baltimore’s tourism industry comes only a few years after tourism in the city was  dealt a blow by the 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray, riots that made national news. After several months of cancellations and nonbookings of events, city tourism leaders said, they had managed to regain that lost business.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect projection regarding the amount of revenue Visit Baltimore expects to lose in the next three months as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

 

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