This article was written by Emily Cassell, Director of The Arlington Convention and Visitors Service
No one could have predicted the level to which this pandemic has altered our lives.
In a matter of weeks, millions of people have lost their jobs. Most Americans are staying at home to protect each other, while everyday heroes are keeping the country running. Gone for now are the days of light-hearted socializing at restaurants or simply meeting a friend for a cup of coffee.
And Oxford Economics reports that the travel industry’s losses will far exceed those of any other sector — more than nine times the impact of 9/11. According to the U.S. Travel Association’s April 16 report, Virginia experienced an 84 percent decline in travel spending the previous week, down $451 million from the same week last year.
Here in Arlington it is no different. The County’s tourism industry — which in 2018 provided $3.4 billion in economic impact to our community and supported the livelihoods of nearly 27,000 hard-working people at Arlington hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses — suffered catastrophic losses almost overnight.
Our hotels are virtually empty during what’s usually a peak travel season. Many have furloughed treasured long-time associates, and several have made the extremely difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations.
Of course, this situation is an unavoidable consequence of the pandemic. Public health experts agree that now is not the time for folks to be traveling or gathering for conferences.
And although we can’t encourage visitors to come right now, we at the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service are doing everything possible to support Arlington’s hotels and local businesses through personal engagement, news and data, and to keep a steady stream of inspiration flowing through our social channels.
As a division within Arlington Economic Development (AED), we’re sharing AED COVID-19 business resources and information on the new GRANT Program that’s designed to provide immediate financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses. We’re also working behind the scenes on plans for Arlington tourism’s re-emergence from this crisis.
As we approach National Travel and Tourism Week, May 3-9, it is important to recognize the value travel holds for our economy, businesses and personal wellbeing. In the best of times, visitors staying in Arlington’s hotels are going to restaurants — often for multiple meals a day.
They’re buying things in our independent stores and shopping malls. They’re attending theatrical performances, concerts and neighborhood festivals. They’re experiencing our iconic sights and traveling via Metro, taxis, Lyft and Uber. They’re contributing greatly to local employment and to the success of our small businesses. Without those visitors, we’re not the community we know we can be.
If we Arlingtonians have learned anything from past crises and this current one, it’s that the hospitality industry is both united and resilient. We will return, as will Arlington’s small businesses. It’s up to all of us to support our hospitality colleagues, and to make the industry’s comeback a triumphant one.
In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones all the best for good health and safety, and I look forward to our making our way through this challenging time together.