JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Summertime is normally a busy time for vacations and travel, but with the spread of coronavirus still playing a major factor in our daily lives, many are changing their plans.
Missouri is on track to lose billions of dollars worth of sales revenue because of the lack of tourism due to COVID-19. Since the Show-Me State reopened in June, the tourism industry has started to see a steady increase in activity, but it’s no where near where it normally is.
Stephen Foutes, the director of the Missouri Department of Tourism, said compared to a slow decline from a recession, COVID-19 has caused a sudden and steep drop in tourism.
“This affected everything from restaurant and lodging businesses to attractions and convention and event businesses,” Foutes said. “June and July are traditionally the peak months for travel in Missouri.”
The Department of Tourism is feeling the affects of the pandemic, with thousands of employees applying for unemployment.
“We have about 82,000-83,000 people in the tourism space that had filed for unemployment since March and the last couple of weeks in June,” Foutes said.
Foutes said there are roughly 304,000 employees totally in Missouri’s tourism industry.
He said compared to last year’s third quarter, the state has lost more than $317 million in sales revenue from tourism. Last fiscal year, the Department of Tourism brought in $14.13 billion.
“It’s going to be some time before we are back to traditional levels of travel and tourism in the state of Missouri,” Foutes said. “There were a lot of businesses in the tourism field that weren’t able to operate because they didn’t have the correct safety measures in place.”
He said that’s money cities and states won’t be able to recover.
“Those communities that are very reliant on convention business, I would say are the ones that I think are seeing the greatest impact,” Foutes said.
Foutes said there’s one positive thing that could come from this pandemic: He believes Missouri residents will vacation inside the state.
“Consumers have indicated that they want to stay closer to home and take shorter vacations,” Foutes said. “We are anticipating to see an uptick in both state travel and from contiguous states.”
Latest research from Tourism Economy shows the state is set to lose more than $3 billion of revenue from tourism. Gov. Mike Parson signed the Fiscal Year 2021 budget last week, which includes a restriction of $8.5 million from the Department of Tourism’s operating budget.
Originally the department had $18.5 million in their budget, but now they only have about $10 million.
“When we have a budget reduction, it impacts a lot of different areas of our operations, travel, conferences and all those kinds of things,” Foutes said.
Foutes said it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We don’t know what normal is going to be in the next four, five, six months,” Foutes said. “We expect that the quarter four numbers will really tell the story of COVID’s impact when you compare the numbers to FY19.”
Before the pandemic hit, Foutes said the tourism industry in Missouri was on track to bring in more money this year than years past. He said the department is waiting until August to see how much sales revenue was lost from COVID-19.