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Massachusetts hospitality sector eyes ways to speed recovery

Worthington Street in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, is home to several clubs with live music, as well as other bars and restaurants.
Elizabeth Román
/
NEPM
Worthington Street in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, is home to several clubs with live music, as well as other bars and restaurants.

Tourism in the greater Boston area is rebounding more quickly than some experts anticipated in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and industry leaders think a focus on in-person work and government aid could help accelerate that trend.

Heads of hotel, restaurant and events groups voiced optimism Friday about the outlook for a region hit hard by mandated shutdowns and dramatic changes in travel behavior.

While overall state tax receipts have soared during the pandemic, American Hotel and Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers said Massachusetts missed out on $500 million in tax revenue in 2020 and 2021 that he said would have flowed if pre-pandemic patterns continued.

Rogers forecasts that leisure travel could hit an all-time high this summer, driven by patrons who are eager to resume old patterns, and said their activity will send ripples out into the local economy at large.

"People are ready to get back to normal, spend money, enjoy their time," Rogers said at an event about reigniting travel to Boston. "For every $100 spent on a hotel room, $222 was spent outside that hotel room in other local businesses."

Still, while conventions and industry events have started to increase, Rogers said business travel remains depressed. Both he and Massachusetts Restaurant Association President and CEO Bob Luz called on employers to bring workers back into offices wherever possible to generate more activity in city spaces.

Luz also urged the Legislature, where lawmakers are sitting on $2.3 billion in unspent federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, to steer more funding to support recovery in the hotel industry, describing them as a sparkplug that drives business to restaurants.

"Hotels have been left without a lot of assistance from a federal level or a state level," Luz said. "The return on investment is there for the state ... That ecosystem works, and if we put more money into it, it's going to put more people to work here in Massachusetts, it's going to put more tax return into the state coffers."

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