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Grants to help towns hurting from pandemic

Grants have been helping towns where the financial bottom line has been impacted by the pandemic. It’s quiet along Main Street, partly because of the time of year and partly because of the pandemic.

We are hopeful this summer will bring more positivity and we will be able to safely bring additional visitors downtown,” Mandi Curtwright of Main Street Batesville wrote in an email.

The Melba Theater in Batesville received a $15,000 grant from Hartford and Main Street America.

“We were the only business in Arkansas awarded. They gave 40 grants to small businesses across the U.S.,” explained Adam Curtwright in a text.

The Melba Theater has spent considerable time and effort to make the environment inside the theater one of the healthiest in the state, by installing four ultraviolet light systems. The UV lights are similar to those used in clinics and hospitals to purify the air from mold spores, mildew, bacteria, viruses, and other germs and allergens.

Additionally, the theater has MERV-8-type pleated filtration in the HVAC system.

Batesville’s Advertising and Promotions Commission received a $3,118.80 grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. Twenty-one advertising and promotions commissions, along with convention and visitor bureaus across the state received more than $3.5 million in grants supported by funding from the federal CARES Act.

“The people and agencies that promote our state parks and other tourist attractions to the rest of the world are essential to a robust state economy,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson when the grants were announced.

“Their campaigns to spread the word about our museums, bike trails, hunting and fishing, and all the other family friendly opportunities in Arkansas entice tourists by the tens of thousands, which supports jobs and brings in millions of dollars to support our state. The CARES Act funds are a bridge to normalcy after the harm to our tourism industry from COVID-19.”

The CARES grant provided reimbursement to Advertising and Promotion Commissions and Convention and Visitor Bureaus and other quasi-governmental entities for eligible expenditures related to the public health emergency incurred between March 1 and Nov. 15, 2020.

“Our A&Ps and CVBs have been among those hardest hit by this pandemic,” said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. “These entities are central to the success of our tourism industry, which is the second-largest sector of our economy in Arkansas. I want to thank Governor Hutchinson for his leadership in finding a way to get this crucial support to these organizations.”

Entities received funds Dec. 30, 2020.

“We have worked diligently as a Department to find ways to support these partners,” said Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism. “These grants will go a long way to benefit tourism in Arkansas and although 2020 has presented significant setbacks, we’re on the right track to come back stronger than before.”

The Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee in November approved funding the grants using the remaining portion of the funds set aside for municipalities and counties through the program administered by the Department of Finance and Administration.

Travel and Tourism
The pandemic has been devastating to the hospitality industry workforce, which is down nearly 4 million jobs compared to the same time in 2019, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

While some 200,000 jobs are expected to be filled this year, overall, the accommodations sector faces an 18.9 percent unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty in 2021.

Business travel, which comprises the largest source of hotel revenue, remains nearly nonexistent, but it is expected to begin a slow return in the second half of 2021.

Among frequent business travelers who are currently employed, 29 percent expect to attend their first business conference in the first half of 2021, 36 percent in the second half of the year and 20 percent more than a year from now.

Business travel is not expected to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024.

Leisure travel is expected to return first, with consumers optimistic about national distribution of a vaccine and with that an ability to travel again this year.

The report found that heading into 2021, consumers were optimistic about travel, with 56 percent of Americans saying they are likely to travel for leisure or vacation in 2021.

While 34 percent of adults are already comfortable staying in a hotel, 48 percent say their comfort is tied to vaccination in some way.

The top findings from this report include:

Hotels will add 200,000 direct hotel operations jobs in 2021 but will remain nearly 500,000 jobs below the industry’s pre-pandemic employment level of 2.3 million employees.

Half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty.

Business travel is forecasted to be down 85 percent compared to 2019 through April 2021, and then only begin ticking up slightly.

56 percent of consumers say they expect to travel for leisure, roughly the same amount as in an average year.

Nearly half of consumers see vaccine distribution as key to travel.

When selecting a hotel, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices rank as guests’ number two priority, behind price.

The resurgence of COVID-19, the emergence of new strains, and a slow vaccine rollout have added to the challenges the hotel industry faces this year.

With travel demand continuing to lag normal levels, national and state projections for 2021 show a slow rebound for the industry and then accelerating in 2022.

The hotel industry experienced the most devastating year on record in 2020, resulting in historically low occupancy, massive job loss, and hotel closures across the country. Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic after travel was forced to a virtual halt in early 2020, and it will be one of the last to recover.

The impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry so far has been nine times that of 9/11.

Read the full article on the Batesville Daily Guard website here.

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