Texas jobs are in danger. A busy summer travel season has typically employed thousands in our state, but this year’s new reality has put many out of work. With restrictions in place and understandable travel concerns, the summer season has not been at its usual levels. 

As a destination management organization, we are experiencing this reality firsthand, even with new health and safety protocols in place. Still, we are preparing for travel’s safe return so our local restaurants, hotels, and attractions and can get back up and running.  It’s our responsibility to represent the travel industry, its many small businesses and workforce, by promoting our community to visitors and businesses alike.

In order to do that effectively, we need Congress to help save the travel industry. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a critical lifeline for small businesses throughout the country to keep their doors open and people employed. Up until recently, destination marketing organizations have been excluded from its benefits, though we so desperately need their support.

The U.S. Travel Association notes that travel businesses and organizations, of which 83 percent are small businesses, have experienced an unprecedented contraction due to coronavirus. More than half of the industry’s 15.8 million jobs have been lost so far. Visit San Antonio has not been immune to those tough personnel decisions. Travel spending is on pace to decline by more than $500 billion this year, with a total negative impact to the U.S. economy of at least $1.2 trillion dollars.

At Visit San Antonio, our role is to promote this region to attract visitors and business travelers who will support our local businesses – from our award-winning restaurants and attractions to our hotels and meetings and events spaces. Through our work and up until the onset of the pandemic, the tourism and hospitality sector generated $15.2 billion into the local economy annually, making it the third-largest industry in San Antonio.

It’s a seismic impact: According to a study by Trinity University, a total of $213.7 million in taxes and fees have been contributed annually to the city by the tourism and hospitality sector. For all local governments combined, that figure rises to $419 million.

Visit San Antonio’s work in driving tourism to the destination is a critical driver in the city’s annual collection of the Hotel Occupancy Tax. The pandemic’s effect on tourists and business travelers has meant an expected revenue collection of $129.3 million in taxes from hotel bookings in 2020 will instead be $69 million this year. In addition to tourism marketing efforts, that tax helps fund convention and sports facilities, history and preservation, and the arts.

Fortunately, we are seeing signs of renewed optimism toward traveling. Visitors are experiencing that destinations in Texas, including San Antonio, have invested in safety protocols designed to protect them. Conversely, those travelers are being educated on the importance of shared responsibility, doing their part to safeguard themselves and those around them by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and washing hands regularly.

As an entity reliant upon tourism revenues, we share that critical information and join our fellow destination marketing organizations to encourage our communities and visitors to exercise preventive health and safety measures. We are actively creating marketing campaigns and initiatives designed to spur travel now and in the future.

Access to PPP funding would tremendously assist our resiliency and long-term sustainability. We are no different from any other PPP recipient — except our incorporation as a 501c(6) public-private nonprofit organization. This specific distinction has so far precluded our participation in the PPP. The defined uses of the program include both operational and employee costs, and our investments would include both as we work toward the recovery of our organization, our industry – and San Antonio’s economy.

Luckily, the solution is easy and well within reach. The U.S. Senate’s latest relief and stimulus bill, the HEALS Act, which builds upon the good work of the Heroes Act introduced by the U.S. House, supports the expansion of PPPs to include destination marketing organizations. We applaud Senate leadership for including these provisions in their opening legislative statement, and we implore Senators Cruz and Cornyn to ensure these measures are non-negotiable and included in the final package that passes through both chambers.

The stakes are high right now for the overall health of our economy and our workforce — particularly in Texas and one of its primary tourism destinations, San Antonio. And as one of the primary drivers of economic benefits to our community through our efforts to attract visitors, we want to be in the position to continue to do exactly that as soon as possible. Expansion of PPP for our organizations, both here in our state and nationwide, will enable us to dramatically contribute to the rebuilding of our economy, as we safely reopen our country and welcome visitors to experience all that this state and community have to offer.

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Casandra Matej

Casandra Matej is president and CEO of Visit San Antonio.