Las Vegas Sun

June 19, 2021

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New Senate subcommittee focused on restoring tourism industry rocked by pandemic

Las Vegas Sign

Steve Marcus

Tourists take photos at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign Saturday, March 14, 2015, on the Strip.

CARSON CITY — A new U.S. Senate subcommittee focused on travel and tourism met for the first time Tuesday to discuss ways to help the industry recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Travel and tourism-related industries drive job creation and economic growth in states across America, especially in Nevada,” said U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion.

“These industries and the workers they employ are absolutely essential to our state’s prosperity,” Rosen said.

Rosen said she will use the subcommittee to develop bipartisan solutions to bring the travel and tourism industry back to pre-pandemic levels. The committee is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with Florida Sen. Rick Scott sitting as the highest-ranking GOP member.

The pandemic hit the the travel and tourism sector especially hard.

In Nevada, casinos were shut down for more than two months starting in March 2020 and have yet to fully recover.

Nevada’s unemployment rate hit a high of nearly 30%, and the loss of gaming and other tax revenue blew a $1.2 billion hole in the state budget.

“It brought our travel and tourism economy screeching to a halt and decimated the jobs that these industries support,” Rosen said.

Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, said it will likely take five years for the travel industry to fully recover.

The association has four priorities: A safe and quick reopening of international travel; federal guidance for state and local governments to restart conventions; emergency funding for Brand USA, a public-private marketing firm for U.S. travel; and passage of the Hospitality and Commerce Jobs Recovery Act.

“Our tourism economy will need our full support as our nation recovers,” said Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who introduced the act with Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.

The act would create incentives and bolster tax credits to promote travel.

Steve Hill, the CEO and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the rollout of vaccines and declining COVID-19 cases in some areas are a beacon of hope.

“We need to get to the point now where social distancing is no longer necessary. Like many destinations, Las Vegas doesn’t work well without a crowd,” Hill said. “We are optimistic that we are on the cusp of that.”

Rosen said that future meetings of the subcommittee will focus on topics including ecotourism, outdoor recreation and international travel.

She said she wants to bring tourists back to Nevada’s attractions, from the “excitement and energy of the Las Vegas Strip” to “the vast and pristine public lands throughout our state.”

“We’re going to get Americans and the world traveling again,” she said.