By Deb Archer
Tourism and hospitality are often considered less important sectors compared to the “real” economic driver industries in the world. It took less than a week to turn that perception on its head. Now, tourism and hospitality are understood to be the economic engine that turned off the spigot of our national and global economy.
The almost-overnight cessation of people traveling created a global crisis not just for airlines and hotels, but your favorite restaurants and bars. Almost immediately other elements of our communities were impacted by lack of visitors – festivals, sporting events, botanical gardens, arts/culture/entertainment venues, golf courses and more.
Add in the supply chain industries that feed the industry: linen suppliers, food producers and distributors, event planners and suppliers, florists the list just keeps going. The trickle down continues with outlets that these businesses advertise in – digital, print, electronic. And, the ultimate bottom line for our communities – the loss of millions of dollars of tax dollars and, more importantly, the loss of jobs for thousands of our family, friends, neighbors and community members.
Hospitality industry wages have long been criticized. The truth is that industry wages are often higher than most people know and, unlike many others, our industry provides rapid, professional growth opportunities. In Wisconsin nearly 200,000 people work in positions supported by visitors. And many of these jobs are “front of house” – meaning they interact with visitors. They are the voices and smiles that welcome people to Wisconsin.
I am almost certain, all of them are longing and eager for the day when they can return to work so they can talk to customers at the bar, clean guestrooms, serve dinners and greet customers at the front desk. Or deliver the flowers for an event, put up barricades for a race or drop off pallets of fresh produce.
From an economic perspective, the industry sits on a very precarious ledge. Much of the industry’s “product” is perishable. If an airline seat, hotel room or restaurant seat is not filled one day, it cannot be resold the next day or week or month. Therein lies the vulnerability – and the unique nature – of our industry. Margins in many aspects of the industry are paper thin. What I fear beyond the loss of livelihood for so many of our neighbors and friends, is the potential loss of many of our favorite hangouts or retreats.
At this very difficult moment, our industry asks all to join us as we call on our local, state and federal officials to support proposed programs that would provide a social net to help our businesses and workers survive this pandemic. We need loans to help businesses cover payroll and other expenses. And we need to supplement unemployment compensation. These loans and programs will mean the difference between someone paying their rent and having food to eat, as well as a business being able to open doors to all of us when this dust settles.
Beyond its clear economic significance, there are many other exceptionally important reasons to appreciate our industry. Traveling provides us a window of opportunity to experiences different ways of life, and time to refresh and revitalize. Tourism is an industry that inspires and ignites possibilities.
It’s so difficult to find a silver lining to this chapter in our history, but for those of us in the tourism and hospitality trade, perhaps we will see new light of appreciation and respect shining on the industry we love.
Archer is the chief executive officer of Destination Madison. She wrote this column for the Tech Council Current.