A coalition of nearly 200 travel-focused companies, associations and municipalities joined forces to demand that Congress take action before the election and agree on a stimulus package to bring relief to the millions of travel employees and businesses suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The group, called Covid Relief Now, sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday, saying legislation would "prevent catastrophic economic harm that would result if Congress does not pass additional emergency relief before adjourning for the election."

Congress has not agreed on additional relief since the Cares Act was introduced in March. Earlier this summer, the House passed a $3 trillion relief package, and the Senate responded with its own $300 billion package. Neither bill passed, leaving relief in a stalemate.

With the slogan "No Recess Without Relief," the coalition warned that without action, millions of people will be furloughed or terminated and millions of unemployed will lose their unemployment insurance pandemic benefits; hundreds of thousands of companies are at risk of shutting down permanently, it said.

During a conference call on Wednesday, Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the message to Congress "is simple: Do not leave without finishing your job."

"The hotel industry on the brink of collapse," he said, citing studies indicating that half of U.S. hotels are in danger of foreclosure and that the industry's job loss could rise from 2 million to 3.7 million without aid. "This data cannot become a reality. Congress can help stop this."

Rogers added that the coalition "cannot express our frustrations enough" and that elected officials are "very focused on protecting their own jobs through reelection, but not the jobs of the people they are supposed to serve."

Van Johnson
Van Johnson

Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, Ga., said that there are many communities, like his, that depend on tourism to survive. Citing Savannah's million visitors and their $2.9 billion contribution to the local economy, he said the pandemic "nearly halted all of that activity. This recovery will take years.

"Without aid from Congress, cities like Savannah are at risk," he continued. "We will have to cut critical services our residents depend on. I say to congress: no relief, no recess."

The U.S. Travel Association published a report this month with research conducted by Tourism Economics that said $360 billion, or $2 billion per day, has been drained from the U.S. economy since March as a result of decreased travel demand due to the pandemic, and that more than half of the industry's 15.8 million jobs (51%) have been lost during the pandemic.

U.S. Travel has been calling on Congress to quickly pass a relief bill that includes the enhancement and expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program to provide critical aid to destination marketing organizations.

"We've got a problem we've got to get Congress to fix," said U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow. "This is the darkest hour for businesses and workers in our industry."

ASTA is also pushing for a federal relief package, one that will includes provisions helpful to travel agencies, and hopes that the extension of the legislative session as the Trump administration attempts to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might increase the likelihood of that happening.

This report was updated to include a link to the letter sent to senior lawmakers, as well as to reflect an increase in the number of groups associated with the Covid Relief Now coalition; it is approaching 200.

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