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Bill aims to help tourism recover from virus woes

State officials on Thursday announced a Senate and Assembly bill that would aid the state's hard-hit tourism industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic, by allowing the statewide creation of "tourism recovery improvement districts."  Credit: Barry Sloan

Lawmakers who hope more publicity will lure coronavirus-weary tourists to New York destinations are sponsoring a bill that could  raise money for tourism promotion through new fees charged to hotel guests.

The proposed legislation from Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) and Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) is aimed at aiding the state's hard-hit tourism industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic, by allowing the creation of  local "tourism recovery improvement districts."  Local legislatures would have to agree to opt-in. 

The districts, made up of tourism-related businesses such as hotels, would assess a fee in order to pay for specific projects, including marketing and promotional campaigns. On the Island, the funding would be managed by nonprofit Discover Long Island, the region's official tourism agency, with oversight from an industry committee set by the lodging businesses. 

"We need this type of initiative now more than ever, as we face this long, hard road toward recovery," Kristen Jarnagin, president and CEO of Discover Long Island, said Thursday at a press conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Plainview.  

The Island's $6.1 billion travel and tourism industry was among the most disrupted by pandemic-related closures — job losses in the sector here top 80,000 — with experts predicting a full recovery will take years, according to a recent study by HR&A Advisors, an economic development consulting firm in Manhattan. 

"Long Island has been the hardest hit, with many family-owned businesses in the tourism sector remaining closed still today," Jarnagin said.

The concept of tourism recovery improvement districts "is not new, but it's new to New York, and is a step forward in helping us rebuild our budget, which was decimated by COVID-19," she said. 

The organization obtains most of its funding from a 3% hotel and motel “bed tax” collected by Nassau and Suffolk counties. It receives 16.7% of that 3% in Nassau and 24% in Suffolk and is capped at $2 million.

But with hotel occupancy rates on the Island down 36.9% overall so far in 2020, according to a report by data and analytics tracker STR, the nonprofit's bottom line has taken a hit too, affecting its ability, Jarnagin said, to "let potential visitors know that Long Island is open for business, and safe for business." 

Jean-Pierre called the legislation a "useful tool" to boost local economies and small businesses. 

"We have so much to offer tourists right here on Long Island, with our beautiful beaches and parks ... by keeping our [COVID-19] infection rates so low, we're a model for the rest of the country," she said.

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