SALT LAKE CITY — A group of about 400 Utah tourism representatives joined a video conference with Sen. Mitt Romney to say their hard-hit industry is recovering at a painfully slow pace and that the fall could get worse.
“I begin by expressing my sympathy for what the industry has gone through,” Romney said at the beginning of the virtual meeting.
Romney then gave an update on efforts in Congress to pass another COVID-19 relief bill.
“I’m not 100% sure there’s going to be another relief package from Washington,” Romney said. “I think it’s very likely, but not certain.”
The meeting included owners and employees of hotels, restaurants, outfitters, retailers, outdoor recreation manufacturers and others associated with tourism in Utah.
“We’re the hardest-hit industry in the state,” said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.
Varela said international travelers — who typically visit Utah’s national parks and surrounding communities in droves — aren’t expected to return anytime soon.
“The fall is going to be challenging, frankly,” she said.
Many Utah tourism companies benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program, Varela said, but that more help will soon be needed.
“The convention districts — think of downtown Salt Lake, downtown Ogden and so forth — they are the hardest hit of any part of our industry,” she said. “Nobody’s been going to any conventions lately, so those hotels have the lowest occupancy.”
At the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park, Ruby’s Inn is only about 40% full and the rooms that are booked are going for about half the normal rate.
“This is by far been the hardest thing that we’ve ever gone through,” said Ruby’s Inn general manager Lance Syrett. “We usually sell pretty much every room every night from the first of May until mid-October.”
For summer destinations like Ruby’s Inn, the peak season provides a financial cushion for the slower, winter season.
“Usually you’ve got a barn full of hay and that’s what gets you through to the first of April,” Syrett said. “That’s going to be the next problem. We talked with the senator about that and I feel like he understands our concerns.”
In terms of finalizing a new relief package, Romney said it depends on if citizens put pressure on Congress to come to an agreement. He added that there will focus on helping small businesses.
“What we don’t want to have happen is have a host of small businesses go out of business,” Romney said. “Because if they do, then there’s no job for people to go back to.”
The tourism office said Romney expressed interest in meeting again and that this is the most comprehensive conversation they can recall with a U.S. senator about the needs of their industry.