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Nevada Resort Association, other business groups back passage of Rosen tourism bill

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressGovernment
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A baker's dozen of Nevada-based and national travel-industry groups are endorsing Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-NV) bill to help revitalize the travel and tourism sector as it seeks to recover from more than a year of crippling restrictions designed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“There’s more work to do to restore the travel and tourism industry to its full potential, and I’m glad to see growing support from tourism leaders for our bipartisan legislation,” Rosen said in a release provided to The Nevada Independent

The bill, which would also create a new position at the Department of Commerce dedicated to tourism, was introduced last month by four Democrats and four Republicans led by Rosen and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). Wicker is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rosen is chair of the panel’s tourism Subcommittee. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is also a cosponsor.

The bill would direct the Commerce Department to study how the pandemic affected the industry and recommend policy changes. It would also create a joint task force between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security to create requirements and guidelines related to health, safety, security and logistical issues for air travel during the pandemic.

The measure would also direct the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct a feasibility study on using canines to screen airport travelers for COVID-19, and establish a pilot program to make baggage screening more efficient for passengers.

The Grupo de Adiestramiento Canino de Carabineros (Dog Training Group of the Chilean Police), together with the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Veterinary Medicine Program train sniffer dogs to detect people with COVID-19 Oct. 23, 2020 ( César Cortés/Pontifical Catholic University of Chile/Wikimedia Commons)

The measure, titled the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, was approved on a voice vote on Dec. 15 by the committee, but still needs to be considered by the full Senate. 

The legislation aims to help Nevada and other states and regions with tourism-reliant economies. The industry accounts for about 350,000 jobs in the Silver State. Nevada has been recovering from the pandemic’s economic blow, which resulted in the highest unemployment rate ever recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30 percent in April 2020. 

In December, the state posted a headline (U-3) unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, down from 6.9 percent in November, according to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

But the recovery has been uneven, with the tourism and hospitality sector, which includes most tourism businesses and workers, lagging. 

“The recovery has been asymmetrical,” Applied Analysis Principal Brian Gordon told The Nevada Independent after speaking at an event last week. “We have not seen all of the visitors come back. We have not seen all of the jobs come back in the leisure and hospitality industry.”

That reflects nationwide trends that show that unemployment in the leisure and hospitality industry is nearly twice the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Las Vegas, in particular, remains starkly below 2019 levels for visitor volume, down 7.6 percent, and hotel occupancy, down 8.4 percent, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). 

Rosen and 13 business groups believe her bill can help the tourism industry come back.

In a letter, Nevada Resort Association (NRA) President Virginia Valentine said the bill would play a key role in helping the tourism industry get back to pre-pandemic levels, which the group says could take up to two years. NRA attributes the recovery timeline to the fact that the ban on international travel was only lifted in November, and the trade show and convention business has been slow to recover. 

NRA also noted the response to the Omicron variant has also been a complicating factor. Last month, President Joe Biden’s administration announced that all international air passengers must present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of boarding their flight, down from three days.

“During this pivotal time, the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act would be a substantial bulwark against the challenges and uncertainties that may arise due to new variants, such as omicron, and would provide much needed resources to help the industry bring back more jobs and restore the economic activity our communities depend on,” Valentine said.

Other Nevada-based groups that wrote Rosen to endorse the bill include the LVCVA, the Vegas Chamber, the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, Get Outdoors Nevada and the Nevada Outdoors Business Coalition.

National groups backing the measure include the American Gaming Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Global Business Travel Association, US Tour Operators Association & National Tour Association, US Travel Association and Outdoor Industry Association. 

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