By Crystal Harrell
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue a downward trend in several California counties, there has been an easing of certain restrictions. This includes permitting Major League Baseball games and other outdoor sporting events, theme parks, and live performances to take place in limited capacities starting April 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also released new guidelines for those who have been fully vaccinated.
One sector that has not been addressed with reopening protocols by the state is tourism. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy makes no mention of business meetings, events and conventions, or guidelines for safe future reopenings.
The California travel industry finalized a plan in June 2020 which outlined how California could also safely hold meetings. It adhered to standards established by the CDC and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), including the best practice recommendations for sanitation, staff training, physical distancing, and communication.
As this has not been addressed by the Newsom administration, the California Travel Association sent out a letter calling for Governor Newsom to immediately issue statewide guidelines clarifying under what conditions business meetings events and conventions in California can resume someday.
The letter was signed by 131 tourism officials and labor groups, and outlines that California is losing business and jobs to other states not only presently, but until 2022 and beyond because of the uncertainty caused by a lack of guidelines.
Scott White, CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, is one of the 131 signatories on the letter calling for immediate action.
“2020 was one of the most difficult years for the tourism industry. We are estimating that over 30,000 jobs were lost or furloughed and the local economy lost over $4 billion. Within the overall industry, the meeting segment represents over $200 million for our local economy. Since Governor Newsom has not responded to our efforts and has not established guidance for meetings, we are now losing groups for the third and fourth quarter—a time frame when the majority if not all citizens will have had the vaccine,” explained White.
Tourism is the number one economy for the Coachella Valley, supporting over 53,000 jobs and the meetings segment representing 40 percent of that economy. As Governor Newsom has changed the metrics and the path to recovery amid the pandemic, these groups need confidence that California has guidance and recognizes the value of tourism as an important industry.
Meetings and conventions normally take months of planning in advance, but if there are no state-mandated guidelines in place, those in charge of organizing cannot plan and are moving to states that do have guidelines. The biggest challenge posed right now is related to the groups booked for later this year. Meeting professionals must begin the planning process now for the third and fourth quarter, but the silence on this topic could cost thousands of jobs if no guidelines are established.
There is the desire of including tourism as part of the tier system created to measure the reopening eligibility of other businesses. When California moves into the red tier, for example, restaurants are allowed to operate at 25% of capacity indoors. As the state moves to orange, the capacity is increased to 50%. The California Travel Association is vying for the same type of guidance and structure for the meetings industry, otherwise California will continue to watch groups move to another state.
“Meetings are happening across the United States in a safe manner. Meetings and conventions are able to mandate the format and structure to ensure all safety protocols are met. We have shared these guidelines with Sacramento with no response. The guidelines have been tested and proven to be safe in other states. If we don’t receive guidelines soon, these groups will continue to relocate and jobs will be lost,” said White.
Having guidelines and a path to resuming meetings will allow these groups and facilities to plan and prepare effectively. It will also save thousands of jobs and deliver important tax revenues for California cities and counties.
“Our community and workforce cannot afford to lose more opportunities to work. The effort to establish guidelines is a statewide effort signed by tourism officials and labor groups. We are all united on this topic and the urgency it represents,” stated White.