The impact of the coronavirus on Massachusetts tourism has been "nine times worse than 9/11," according to a local industry leader.
Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, joined NBC10 Boston's Brian Shactman on Tuesday for a Small Business and the COVID-19 Crisis webinar focusing on the tourism and hospitality industry.
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"If you compare it to 9/11, so far we're nine times worse than we were after that tragedy," said Sheridan, who has been in the business for over 30 years. "It's the worst I've seen."
"I don't remember hotels actually closing before, so that's a big difference," she added.
Sheridan said Boston area hotels, which usually boast an occupancy rate around 80%, are currently in the 10 to 12% range, with only about half of them now open. The occupancy rate for the entire year is expected to be around 28%, instead of the usual 75%. And the occupancy rate for 2021 is only projected to be around 50%.
"Obviously, the industry has been one of the hardest hit as a result of the virus. It's going to be a slow recovery and the biggest challenge we've ever seen," she said.
In an effort to give those tourism numbers a lift, she said a group of regional tourism councils is launching a new billboard campaign this month using the old "Spirit of Massachusetts" slogan. The idea is to encourage Bay State residents to spend their travel and tourism dollars right here at home.
"Take advantage of what your tourism websites are offering for fantastic activities off the beaten path than you're used to," Sheridan said. "Focus on outdoor activities, like walking the Freedom Trail or the Rose Kennedy Greenway, dining outside. Take advantage of all the outdoor things to do."
She said the local tourism industry remains at the whim of the federal government when it comes to international travel, but air travel is increasing every day, and Massachusetts will be ready when tourists from around the world return to Boston.