Regional leaders meet to save flagging local tourism industry

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois’ stay-at-home order, issued in March, was a devastating blow to the local hospitality and tourism industry.

Representatives from the sector sat down with elected officials on Friday to discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on their businesses and their needs for recovery.

The Rockford area hospitality and tourism industry has been hard hit by Covid-19 restrictions.

“The economic impact from this industry is more than $390 million dollars on our community. That’s a staggering amount of economic impact that we see just from this one segment,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.

Last year, the Discovery Center Museum, known for it’s interactive displays, welcomed 150,000 visitors, but with interactions in general discouraged due to coronavirus concerns, administrators are forced to get creative.

Sarah Wolf, Executive Director Discovery Center Museum, said, “Most of the federal dollars and the state dollars have been dedicated through the COVID-19 funds to the basic needs and museums just don’t line up with that in the minds of government.”

Burpee Museum of Natural History has permits through the Bureau of Land Management to exhibit treasures including Jane, the worlds most complete juvenile T-Rex. The museum is granted permits because of its research programming.

“But what if we don’t have that? We give Jane back. We give Homer back. We give Pearl back…we can fill in the blanks. What is Burpee Museum if we lose that?” asked Ann Weerda, Burpee Museum of Natural History Exec Director

Rockford area retailers face funding concerns of their own.

Rockford Art Deli, known for it’s forest city pride t-shirts, is down $120,000 in just two months. Owner Jarrod Hennis says they’re trying to focus resources as best they can.

“Is it cleaning the store after everyone comes in? Is it quarantining stuff after people want to try it on? Is it cleaning every single door handle? All these regulations that are still very unclear as a retailer cause I think they’re still changing daily,” he said.

Uncertainty over the future of the virus leaves many decisions in the hospitality and tourism industry on hold.

As play returns to local sports facilities, occupancy at the area’s 30 hotels is expected to pick up.

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