Even during the summer (or should I say, a normal summer), Tucson derives a lot of its revenue from tourism. Needless to say, the tourism industry is struggling. Visit Tucson reports that hotel revenues were down 35% in the six months from January to July. While that’s not as bad as the cities we compete with for tourist dollars (Seattle, for example, was down 64%), it’s still a big hit to our local economy.
Keep in mind that tourism is not just families visiting our local resorts or partaking of the beauty of our desert. We’ve also had a thriving trade show, meeting and event business. Although we just completed two weeks of scaled back Fall gem shows, much of that business is gone.
Visit Tucson reports that 191 meetings and sports events have been cancelled since the onset of the pandemic. That amounts to 115,200 hotel room nights and an estimated $57 million in economic impact. By the way, that number only includes events that were booked through visit Tucson. It doesn’t include the numerous events that are booked directly with venues and hotels.
From July of 2018 through June of 2019, the total economic impact of tourism to our community was $94 million. By comparison, July 2019 to June of this year is $80 million. That number only reflects a portion of the cancelations due to the pandemic.
Big touring acts (including Hamilton) that were set to perform at Centennial Hall cancelled and larger music festivals like KFMA Day have also been on hold. Remember the impact of big shows and festivals is not only on the venue: hotels, bars and other retailers in the area suffer when these events get cancelled.
I got a call from a woman who is a member of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). You may have noticed the IATSE logo, a sort of squared off star, at the end of movies. They don’t only represent the technical staff on films, but here in Tucson, they represent a lot of stage hands, lighting techs, sound engineers and others that work on events and conventions that come to town.
Unfortunately, she is one of many that can’t find work. Her last gig was in February. Nationwide, 95% of live events have been cancelled, leaving 77% of workers without income. Compounding things, most of these workers are gig workers, meaning that they aren’t eligible for unemployment nor many of the programs that have been created during this crisis to help displaced workers.
Remember that the impacts are not just on technical staff; there are a whole array of workers that the convention business employs. These events hire caterers, security, transportation workers and others. This is a major impact on a wide segment of our economy and more importantly, a great deal of our neighbors.
I’ve been working to get some of our CARES Act money to go to what I call 1099 workers, gig workers such as that IATSE member that called me, tradespeople, musicians and others who work hard but don’t draw a salary.
A bill called the RESTART Act is before the US Senate to extend loans to small businesses to cover rent, salaries and other expenses. That would go a long way to helping out many businesses, including the companies that support conventions and shows. If we want to truly help the whole industry though, then along with the RESTART Act, the Paycheck Protection Program should be amended to add protections to 1099 workers.
Supporting the men and women of this industry is vital. We need them to remain in Tucson and be ready to get back to work when this crisis is over. I consider it an investment in our inevitable recovery.