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COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented crisis in the nation's tourism industry, and Missouri is no exception.

Here in the Show-Me State, tourism is one of the largest industries. In Jefferson City alone, scores of people travel here each year to visit the Capitol, the river, the old Missouri State Penitentiary and other landmarks. Visitors eat at our restaurants and sleep in our hotels.

Not so much this year. The pandemic has decimated the industry, resulting in huge job losses.

In Springfield, hotel occupancy rates have gone from 22 percent at the beginning of the pandemic to 44 percent in early June. The normal occupancy rate is 75-80 percent.

A story we recently published by Missouri Information Corps, a project of the Missouri School of Journalism, said Missouri had 42.9 million visitors in fiscal 2019, according to the Missouri Division of Tourism. (The state defines visitors as people who travel from out of state or at least 50 miles in-state). Missouri's tourism industry employs more than 300,000 people — one in 12 Missouri residents — and tourists spend approximately $17.7 billion annually.

Between Feb. 29 and May 9, Missouri lost $2.16 billion in tourism spending, state officials estimate.

So what do we do to give a lifeline to this industry?

Like any shift in the business climate, innovation is key to survival. Restaurants, for example, are setting up online menus for delivery and curbside pickup.

Even unprecedented sums of federal money being dispersed to businesses to keep people employed are not enough.

The state's Tourism Commission has created an Economic Recovery Task Force that will look at balancing safety and the economy. Its recommendations will be shared with the tourism industry.

We welcome new and innovative ideas that will help our state's tourism industry hobble through this as we pursue a vaccine for COVID-19.

News Tribune

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