. The Great Travel Depression: More Than 50 Percent of Workers in the Travel Industry Are Unemployed | Northstar Meetings Group

The Great Travel Depression: More Than 50 Percent of Workers in the Travel Industry Are Unemployed

Nearly 10 million Americans in the travel sector have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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At the peak of the Great Depression in 1933, unemployment in the nation reached 25 percent. Nearly 90 years later, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the travel industry into a Great Depression of its own. 

According to new data from the U.S. Travel Association and research firm Tourism Economics, unemployment in the U.S. travel industry has hit a devastating 51 percent. In fact, travel-related job losses represent 38 percent of all U.S. job losses through April, with nearly 10 million Americans in the travel sector affected.

"Our national economy is in a recession, but the travel industry is already in a depression," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "Travel-related businesses have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic's fallout, and unfortunately our workforce is on the front lines of that struggle."

The impact of COVID-19 on tourism is nine times worse than that of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. In the year following 9/11, travel spending declined $57 billion, with an estimated $133 billion in economic loss. This year, travel spending is expected to drop $519 billion, with an associated economic loss of $1.3 trillion. 

Earlier this month, U.S. Travel released guidelines for how travel-related businesses can reopen. The organization is also calling on an expansion of the CARES Act and has issued the following recommendations to lawmakers:

  • Extend and enhance CARES Act relief. Destination marketing organizations should be able to apply for the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program. U.S. Travel also recommends increasing loan amounts and flexibility, as well as extending the covered period through 2020.
  • Promote a safe restart of the travel economy. U.S. Travel suggests creating a temporary travel tax credit, allowing businesses to fully deduct food and entertainment expenses, providing a tax break for personal protective equipment and facility cleaning, and implementing tax measures to revitalize trade shows and exhibitions.
  • Support community-based economic recovery. Economic Development Administration grants of $10 billion should be issued to DMOs and small businesses to encourage safe travel.
  • Create a limited, temporary and immediate safe harbor for businesses that follow proper COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. According to U.S. Travel, this will be imperative for helping businesses reopen safely.
  • Improve federal testing, production, research and contact tracing related to coronavirus. The organization recommends providing addition federal funds for COVID-19 testing and expanding the federal role in the White House testing blueprint, which will help states conduct consistent practices around data collection and contact tracing.

"The travel industry has exhibited the ability to lead a national economic recovery, bouncing back well ahead of expectations after both 9/11 and the financial crisis of the late 2000s," said Dow. "But to do that this time, travel-reliant businesses need to survive until a recovery can truly begin. Not only are structural changes and expanded eligibility to the PPP critical for the most impacted travel businesses just to keep the lights on, but ultimately stimulative measures will be important."