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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, July 16, 2020. Photo by Courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office

Gov. Mike Parson and state tourism officials announced Thursday that $15 million is available to help the state's tourism industry during the COVID-19 pandemic by helping marketing organizations stay afloat and start new marketing campaigns.

The grant program is funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Stephen Foutes, director of the Division of Tourism within the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said the grant money is available for destination marketing organizations' expenses such as payroll, enhanced safety measures for events and new marketing campaigns designed for the time of pandemic that highlight attractions' safety measures.

Destination marketing organizations, or DMOs, include convention and visitors bureaus such as Jefferson City's. Foutes said the Division of Tourism works with about 40 DMOs.

To be eligible for grant money, a DMO must have participated in the division's Cooperative Marketing Program in the past two years, Foutes said.

DED Director Rob Dixon said no specific attractions are targeted by the grant money and DMOs decide how to market what's in the communities in their area.

The tourism and hospitality industries — and their employees and the communities that depend on the industries — have been hit particularly hard economically during the pandemic, with "more than 40 percent of American travelers now (saying) they have no plans to travel for the rest of the year," Dixon said.

Direct travel-related spending in Missouri topped $14 billion in the 2019 fiscal year, Foutes said.

Missouri has already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in lodging revenue alone this year, with billions of dollars in overall tourism spending lost in the spring, based on data Foutes shared with the News Tribune in May.

Places such as local venues for movies or music can apply for aid through the $30 million in small business grants announced earlier this week, Dixon said. More information on that is available at showmestrong.mo.gov/ business.

Dixon also announced an online "Missouri Recovery Lab" to help businesses. More information is available at showmestrong.mo.gov/mo-recovery-lab.

More information about an honor-based "Show Me Strong Pledge" for businesses to volunteer to take to agree to practice safety guidance on physical distancing, cleaning, face mask wearing and hand-washing is available at showmestrong.mo.gov/pledge.

There are signs of overall economic recovery. DED reported Thursday that Missouri's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June fell to 7.9 percent from May's revised rate of 10.1 percent.

The 7.9 percent unemployment rate for the state last month is below June's national rate of 11.1 percent.

Parson said Thursday that one third of the Missouri jobs lost in March and April were recovered in May and June — when the state eased public health restrictions and businesses could resume more of their normal activities, though COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have since been rising.

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