By Misti Kerns

Jobs in California and right here at home in Santa Monica are in real danger. A busy summer travel season has typically employed thousands in our state and local community, but this year’s new reality has put many in our industry out of work. With restrictions in place and understandable traveler concerns, the summer season has not been at its usual levels, even while travel businesses and employees take important safety precautions and implement new health and safety protocols.

At Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, representing the travel industry, its many small businesses and workforce, our responsibility is promoting our community to visitors, residents and businesses alike. We are experiencing this reality firsthand, while we urgently prepare for travel’s safe return so our local restaurants, hotels, retail and attractions and can get back up and running.

In order to do that effectively, we need Congress to help save the travel industry. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a critical lifeline for small businesses throughout the country to keep their doors open and people employed. Up until recently, destination marketing organizations (DMO) like ours, have been excluded from its benefits, though we so desperately need their support, particularly the loan forgiveness the program offers—and even though current legislation includes this provision, this relief isn’t guaranteed.

Travel businesses and organizations, of which 83% are small businesses, have experienced an unprecedented contraction due to coronavirus. 8.1 million of the industry’s 15.8 million jobs (51%) have been lost so far. Travel spending is on pace to decline by over $500 billion this year, with a total negative impact to the U.S. economy of over $1.2 trillion dollars. Santa Monica is in the same boat with roughly 150 local businesses who have permanently closed their doors over the last several months with an estimated 50% decline in employment, revenues and taxes.

At Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, our role is to promote our area to attract visitors and business travelers who will support our local employees and businesses—from our award-winning restaurants and breweries to our hotels, meetings and unique events spaces. Through our work and up until the onset of the pandemic, our promotional and economic development campaigns placed a spotlight on our local businesses and the experiences we offer.

However, as entities reliant upon tourism revenues, we have all made difficult decisions to stay afloat, while continuing to share critical information and encouraging our communities and visitors to exercise preventive health and safety measures—like wearing masks, maintaining safe distances, washing hands regularly and to travel responsibly. We also take every chance to remind everyone that this creative, vibrant destination will be safe and ready once travel resumes.

Luckily, a solution is easy and well within reach. The U.S. Senate’s latest relief and stimulus bill, the HEALS Act, which builds upon the good work of the HEROES Act introduced by the U.S. House, supports the expansion of PPPs to include DMOs and more small businesses. We applaud Senate leadership for including these provisions in their opening legislative statement, and we implore our representatives to ensure these measures are nonnegotiable and included in the final package that passes through both chambers.

Undoubtedly, our local restaurants are a large part of the fabric of our community and their existence is also under threat. The foodservice industry employs 10% of the U.S. workforce, and has an economic impact of more than $2.5 trillion dollars annually. The Real Economic Support that Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act (RESTAURANTS) of 2020 proposes assistance for our valuable culinary treasures. The first 14 days of funds will only be made available to restaurants with annual revenues of $1.5 million or less to target local small restaurants, particularly those that are women, veteran, or minority-owned and operated eligible entities that are owned or operated by women or people of color.

The stakes are high right now for the overall health of our economy and our workforce—particularly in California. As one of the primary drivers of economic benefits to our community through our efforts to responsibly attract visitors, we want to be in the position to do exactly that as soon as possible. Expansion of PPP for our organization and many others, both here in our state and nationwide, will enable us to dramatically contribute to the rebuilding of our economy, as we safely reopen our country and region to welcome visitors to safely experience all that Santa Monica has to offer. More than ever before we need help to navigate through these rough waters and are reminded that “leadership is not a position or a title it is action and example” Donald McGannon.