These are unprecedented and pivotal times for Baltimore’s hospitality community. Our industry and the thousands of hard-working Baltimoreans who are employed by it are being challenged more than ever before by the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, 15.8 million travel-related jobs in the U.S. have been lost due to the pandemic. This has resulted in an industry unemployment rate of 51%, which is more than twice the rate our country experienced as a whole during the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, Visit Baltimore has not been immune to these challenges. While Congress has provided aid to many industries and organizations through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Destination Marketing Organizations like us do not qualify for relief. On top of that, a majority of our funding comes from Baltimore City’s hotel room tax, which has been forecasted to decrease by approximately 45% in the fiscal year ahead. Given these realities, we’ve not only been forced to cut jobs, but we’ve halted programs that would be critical to the city’s recovery.
As part of these cuts, Visit Baltimore was forced to pause a marketing campaign that aimed to showcase the city’s distinctive culture and incredible people. This national initiative would have positioned Baltimore as an inclusive, exciting destination where travelers feel invited, welcomed and seen.
We are disappointed because now more than ever, with so much of the world coming together to find ways to eradicate racism and bigotry, we should be showcasing Baltimore’s rich Black culture, African American history and heritage as well as our emerging creative entrepreneurs. Now is the time for Baltimore to showcase to the world what we already know: That this place has heart, soul and so many incredible stories that illustrate the power of the arts, culture and caring communities.
These are uncertain and challenging times for hoteliers, restaurateurs, the travel industry, the country and the world. But now is not the time to count us out. America—and the world—will travel again. We did it after 9/11, we did it after the 2008 financial meltdown, we did it after public health scares such as H1N1 and SARS. When America travels again, we must ensure that Baltimore is on everyone’s list as a must-see destination. Our city’s success depends on it.
Al Hutchinson is President and CEO of Visit Baltimore.