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Tourism industry, small businesses hopeful about federal funds proposal

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Posted at 5:51 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 17:51:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- COVID-19 took a toll on many industries but hit the tourism industry especially hard as the pandemic significantly limited travel.

"Worldwide, it's been devastating for the travel and tourism industry," Jack Berry, Richmond Region Tourism's President and CEO said.

Berry said that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on his industry, pointing locally to March 13, 2020.

"When 4,000 women with AKA Regionals convention pulled the plug in the middle of the convention, we've been trying to recover ever since then," Berry said.

Berry said that hotel sales were down 32 percent in the last fiscal year but noted that things have slowly started to improve since COVID restrictions were lifted earlier this year.

"Weekends are almost all sold out. We have about 152 sports tournaments that will take place in 2021," Berry said.

Statewide officials estimate over $14 billion in losses to the industry through April of this year. On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed help with some $4.3 billion coming to Virginia as its share of the American Rescue Plan Act.

"Today we are proposing that we use $353 million of those federal funds to help our small businesses and our small towns," Northam said.

$250 million of the funds will go to Rebuild Virginia, the program set up last summer offering grants to small businesses, while $50 million will go to local tourism groups, like Berry's to help advertise.

"We want them coming to Virginia Beach, we want them coming to the mountains and all the places in between," Senator Dick Saslaw said.

"The Governor has a wish list. But, ultimately, it comes down to legislators," Delegate Barry Knight said.

State lawmakers will meet next month to discuss his proposals.

Knight, who represents Virginia Beach, thinks that everyone will go along with this announcement and adds he also wants to see money go to hiring incentives, rewarding state employees and infrastructure for electric vehicles.

"So we're certainly going to look and see what the Governor proposes," Knight said.