Coronavirus and Meetings
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Updated April 23, 2020, 3:30 p.m. EDT with news from Las Vegas, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif.
Restaurants and hotels were among the first industry segments to close their doors and reduce staffing due to coronavirus. Now, convention and visitor bureaus are facing the same difficult decisions. Across the nation, CVBs are being forced to furlough or lay off employees as the travel and events industries remain on hold.
A new study from Destinations International and Northstar Meetings Group, which polled nearly 300 CVBs, found that:
- 42 percent expect immediate budget cuts between 50-100 percent
- 20 percent of the CVBs polled have laid off staff members
- 30 percent have implemented furloughs
- 87 percent of respondents were from the U.S.
- 13 percent of respondents hailed from Europe, Canada and Asia
Of those who have been forced to lay off staff members:
- 50 percent have let go of more than 20 percent of their total staff
- 68 percent have furloughed more than 20 percent of their staff
Below are some of the CVBs in the United States that have been severely affected by the pandemic and are reducing staff members to stay afloat.
NYC & Company
New York is at the epicenter of the epidemic, with the most cases of any state in the country. NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization representing the Big Apple, has been forced furlough 55 percent of its staff. The three-month furloughs are expected to last from May to July. Employees will keep their health care benefits during this time. Pay cuts have been instituted for most of the remaining staff members, according to Chris Heywood, executive vice president of global communications at NYC & Company.
"NYC & Company is not immune to this crisis and it’s been very challenging," said Heywood. "Because of lost revenue, we've had to adjust our business levels, while keeping focused on the core activities and preserving capital for recovery when we get the all clear. Until then, we're trying to do what we can to keep the destination top of mind and continue to inspire people."
Even the nation’s capital has not been spared. Destination DC has implemented a temporary furlough policy of one day a week for all employees.
"Like many of my counterparts and cities across the country and across the world, Washington has been severely hit," said Melissa Riley, vice president of convention sales and services for Destination DC, during a webcast with Destinations International and Northstar Meetings Group on April 8. "Last week, we ran an occupancy of 8.3 percent. We currently have 60 hotels closed in the D.C. metro area. We've lost 11 large-scale convention center opportunities, totaling about $87 million in economic impact and like many others, we have furloughed staff."
Nearby Baltimore has implemented a similar policy with all employees receiving a one-day furlough. No staff members have been laid off. Visit Baltimore plans to reassess its staffing needs in two months.
"These are hard times for our country, our industry and our community. While no one knows when the pandemic will end, we know that COVID-19’s impact on the travel industry and the whole U.S. economy is going to be very significant," said Visit Baltimore president and CEO Al Hutchinson. "Due to these unprecedented times, we’ve had to make some hard decisions about our business in order to ensure the long-term viability of our organization. Beginning the week of March 30, 2020, Visit Baltimore instituted a four-day work schedule for all employees. This plan will continue for eight weeks, at which point we will reassess the situation to determine if we can return to standard business operations."
Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau
Down south, the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau has temporarily furloughed 65 full-time employees. This represents nearly 55 percent of the organization’s full-time staff, although most of the furlough decisions were tied to positions in the facility-management division. Staff members are expected to return when business resumes.
"We fully anticipate bringing back all the staff once our business picks back up and everything is deemed safe," said Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Much like many other DMOs, we have implemented budget cuts and cost-saving measures across all lines of the organization. Our current projections estimate an annual loss in revenue of $5.6 million. This is still somewhat of a moving target and we continue to monitor it daily."
Visit Tampa Bay
In Florida, Visit Tampa Bay has cut more than half of its staff. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, 40 employees were laid off, and remaining staff members are taking a pay cut.
"In light of the relentless impact COVID-19 is having on the tourism industry, Visit Tampa Bay had to make the financial decision to reduce our staff levels and retain core positions," said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. "We join many industry colleagues who were faced with making similar difficult decisions in order to propel tourism forward once travel bans are lifted. We are eager to return to our mission of inspiring the world to love Tampa Bay and intend to remain tourism strong now and always."
Orlando was also affected, with its CVB forced to take a number of cost-cutting measures. Nearly 40 percent of the Visit Orlando team has been furloughed. Reduced salaries and shortened workweeks have been implemented for remaining staff members.
"Visit Orlando temporarily restructured our organization to focus on the key areas we need to tackle over the next several months and in so doing, have reduced salaries, shortened workweeks and furloughed approximately 40 percent of our team," said the CVB in a statement. "We will continue to monitor our research and project timing to ensure our plans are properly supported."
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
Las Vegas, home to three convention centers and a major hub for meeting business, has furloughed or laid off 77 percent of its CVB staff. Of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's 455 employees, 80 were laid off and 270 were furloughed, according to 8 News Now.
"The spread of the novel strain of coronavirus is having significant negative impacts throughout the world, including within the state of Nevada and Clark County," noted the LVCVA Board of Directors in a meeting on April 14. "Applied analysis, in a report commissioned by the Nevada Resort Association, estimated that the LVCVA’s General Fund would realize a FY 2020 reduction in room taxes of approximately $62 million (compared to its budget) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic ... LVCVA staff further estimates that total FY 2020 budgeted General Fund revenue loss will be approximately $79 million, including loss of facility revenues."
To offset the economic damage of COVID-19, the organization has approved $79 million in budget cuts. This will include a hiring freeze, the elimination of performance bonuses for managers and executives, and a voluntary early retirement option for some employees.
A $540 million plan to renovate the Las Vegas Convention Center's older exhibition halls has also been put on hold. Construction on an underground people mover beneath the convention center, however, will continue as planned. It is expected to debut in January 2021.
San Francisco Travel
California has also been hard hit by the coronavirus, with a number of CVBs across the Golden State implementing furloughs. San Francisco Travel has reduced its staff by 60 percent, including a mix of furloughs and layoffs. All remaining employees will take a 20 percent pay cut. Other cost-saving measures have been implemented by the organization, such as a total elimination of advertising, travel and trade show participation for the remainder of the year. According to Tom David, executive vice president and chief sales officer of convention sales and services, the CVB will make adjustments as the COVID-19 situation changes.
"In our ideal world, the furlough people will come back, but we did not furlough with a specific deadline. We didn't say it was going to be 60 days because we just don't know what the future will be. But the furlough staff are people that are going to be key to building back the organization once this passes," said David. "We've also cut out all of our programs for the rest of the year, including travel, trade shows and all of our advertising that is not done in-house. We've cut everything out with the idea that as business starts to come back, we will add it back in by prioritizing things that are more important."
Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board
Cuts also have been made at the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, but the CVB remains hopeful that recovery can begin later this year. Its marketing team has already begun collaborating with Visit California on a recovery campaign. Remaining staff members are also working to create programs that will capitalize on pent-up travel demand once restrictions are lifted.
"The impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry has been both disproportionate and devastating," said Jamie Simpson, vice president of global communications at the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. "Current economic estimates cite an impact nine times as large as the fallout the U.S. travel industry experienced following 9/11. Heartbreakingly, Los Angeles Tourism is not immune to the current financial circumstances, and we have been forced to make cutbacks to staff and partners worldwide. While these are dark days, we do know the sun will soon shine again on Los Angeles as economists forecast global tourism recovery beginning in late 2020, with strong growth in 2021."
In nearby Anaheim, a 60 percent staff reduction was implemented in March. According to Visit Anaheim, remaining employees and senior leadership members will receive pay cuts of 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
Despite the staff reductions, Anaheim is looking to get business back on the books and prepare for recovery. The CVB has already rebooked 10 shows, representing $475 million in economic impact.
"Our team continues to deliver results that will benefit the destination and local residents with future business," said Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim. "With 50 to 60 new business leads per month, our team is working hard to get business on the books because we know tourism means an increase in quality jobs, revenue for small businesses and is an essential component of a strong local economy."
Up the coast, Travel Portland has cut its staff back by 40 percent. According to the CVB, remaining employees will see a reduction in salary, with higher percentage cuts at the CEO and executive levels.
"These unprecedented times are unfortunately calling for unprecedented measures," said Travel Portland president and CEO Jeff Miller. "As we have watched the city we love and have the honor of promoting suffer the impacts of this pandemic, we have had to reevaluate how we do our work. The work we do now, both internally and externally, will define how Portland comes out of this when recovery begins. We are doing what we need to do now to ensure our ability to be poised and ready for this work."