EDITORIAL: We can recover with help

THIS JUST IN: Last year Columbia County had the highest rate of growth among the six counties in the Hudson Valley region in terms of tourism spending. With tourism spending up 5.2% accompanied by a 4.2% growth in tourism tax revenues, the rate of growth in this industry is ahead of Dutchess and even Westchester County.

Ahhh. Remember tourism? Back in 2019 out-of-towners, “city people,” foreigners and neighbors pumped an estimated $177 million into this county. They supported more than 2,400 jobs and what amounted to over 11% of our economy. We were happy to have their business. Most of us.

The statistics come from research by Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of Oxford Economics. The numbers are compiled in “Economic Impact of Visitors in New York/Hudson Valley Focus.” The company collects and analyzes tourism data from around the world and while there are no surprises, it reports on its website that “city tourism” in North America is off by 70% or more and won’t return to its 2019 levels until 2024. New York City will take the biggest hit, the company says. That will have ripples here.

The company’s survey of surveys says Americans are planning to travel but probably won’t until a vaccine is available. Gee, thanks. Predictions like that sound as “reliable” as Election Day exit polls. Statistics make more sense, like the one that shows New York state with a 50% drop in holiday travel spending during the Thanksgiving holiday this year. People were listening to—and heeding—the public health warnings not to travel. But not enough people.

There’s no good reason why Columbia County’s tourism industry shouldn’t come roaring back once a vaccine is widely available, which might happen by next summer or fall. But there are some threats that could derail or delay a rapid recovery. The biggest one is a do-nothing U.S. Senate leadership that won’t come to the aid of unemployed workers and small businesses, and keep the economy on life support.

How does this connect to Columbia County tourism? We need tourist destinations for visitors to rediscover when Covid-19 is subdued. We need people who staff those enterprises, who run those restaurants, who build and repair the components of our legacy of historic sites. Together these people are a big industry for a small place. To ignore their needs now is to admit defeat by the Coronavirus when that doesn’t have to happen.

The tourism industry is non-partisan. Its workers deserve support as do workers in other American industries. And the government assistance they need isn’t long term. Neither is Covid-19. Workers and small businesses throughout this county and this country need a helping hand, if not with unemployment benefits, then with rent or mortgage payments and business grants. They need it Now to get them through to the end of this pandemic.

There’s a bipartisan $900 billion economic stimulus bill in Congress. It’s too little but it’s a start. The roadblock is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). He’s not our senator but it might help if you remind him of his responsibility to the nation. Drop him an email. Remind him that Kentucky tourism needs help too.

Find his address it at www.mcconnell.senate.gov

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