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Airport among facilities seeing pandemic-related cutbacks

While Americans come to terms with government-imposed seclusion, industries everywhere are beginning to feel the pinch, with the travel and tourism sector experiencing an almost immediate and total shutdown.

“Rochester will be impacted,” said Andrew Moore, director of the Greater Rochester International Airport. “I think it’s safe to say there will be a reduction in flights for all domestic carriers.”

Already United Airlines said it will reduce one flight to Washington Dulles Airport beginning April 1, Moore said, and Southwest Airlines and Delta have both indicated they would reduce their flights in and out of Rochester.

“What we don’t know right now is to what extent those reductions will be,” he said.

The Transportation Security Administration has set procedures for its personnel and travelers during the pandemic. TSA has authorized frontline personnel whose security screening tasks require them to routinely come into close contact with the traveling public to wear surgical masks if they choose to do so, and they are required to wear nitrile gloves when screening an individual or their property.

“TSA will continue to follow guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding workforce protection,” a TSA spokesperson said on Friday. “We have also put up CDC notices in TSA areas for public information on coronavirus.”

Bins in use in the security checkpoint should be treated as any other piece of public property, TSA officials said. Travelers are advised to wash their hands before and after the screening process and not to place personal items such as wallets, keys or phones in the bins, but rather secure them in carry-on bags.

TSA is allowing passengers to carry individually wrapped alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes in checked or carry-on bags, as well as jumbo containers of hand wipes. Liquid hand sanitizers are allowed in carry-on bags, officials said.

On Friday, President Donald Trump closed America’s borders to international flights from Europe, excluding the U.K., although the U.K. and Ireland were added to the list this week. The U.S. Travel Association noted that 850,000 international visitors flying from Europe, excluding the U.K., entered the U.S. in March of 2019, accounting for some 29 percent of total overseas arrivals to the U.S. Those visitors spent roughly $3.4 billion in the U.S.

“In taking aggressive steps to protect the public against coronavirus, the U.S. government should now consider equally aggressive steps to protect America’s workforce and employers. The public’s health is the top concern, but now the policy conversation must address the health of the economy,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “Temporarily shutting off travel from Europe is going to exacerbate the already-heavy impact of coronavirus on the travel industry and the 15.7 million Americans whose jobs depend on travel.”

The Greater Rochester airport averages 106 flights daily, or 53 inbound and 53 outbound, Moore noted, and traditionally those flights are full. With COVID-19 restrictions, and many individuals reluctant to fly, it is clear the industry will be impacted. Six airlines fly in and out of Rochester.

“I remain in contact with all of our airlines that operate out of Rochester getting updates and trying to get as much information as I can,” Moore said. “The airport is open, flights are coming and going, passengers are here and we remain fully operational.”

Amtrak also is taking active measures to maintain a safe environment for its travelers. In New York State, all Maple Leaf, Adirondack, Empire Service and Ethan Allen Express trains are operating on a reduced schedule, with no service to Canada.

“While Amtrak continues to operate across the nation, we have adjusted some services due to significantly reduced demand in key markets,” officials said this week.

A new analysis released Tuesday by the U.S. Travel Association projects that decreased travel due to coronavirus will inflict an $809 billion total hit on the U.S. economy and eliminate 4.6 million travel-related American jobs this year.

The impact data, prepared for the U.S. Travel Association by Tourism Economics, were presented by U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow at a Tuesday White House meeting with President Trump, Vice President Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other travel leaders.

Other notable findings in the travel impact analysis:

  • Total spending on travel in the U.S.— transportation, lodging, retail, attractions and restaurants—is projected to plunge by $355 billion for the year, or 31 percent. That is more than six times the impact of 9/11.
  • The estimated losses by the travel industry alone are severe enough to push the U.S. into a protracted recession—expected to last at least three quarters, with the second quarter of 2020 being the low point.
  • The projected 4.6 million travel-related jobs lost would, by themselves, nearly double the U.S. unemployment rate (3.5 percent to 6.3 percent).

This week area museums, convention centers and other attractions closed down to mitigate the spread of the disease. The George Eastman Museum closed to visitors on Friday, stating that the museum “is proactively implementing precautionary measures to protect the health of our staff.”

Rochester Museum and Science Center also chose to shut its doors from March 13 through March 27.

“We have been monitoring and following guidance from the CDC, New York State Department of Health and Monroe County Health Department, regarding COVID-19,” RMSC officials said in a statement. “We have been able to serve guests while following that guidance. However, after consulting with a number of cultural leaders of institutions in the Rochester region, it has become clear that closing our organizations is the best course of action for our community.”

On Thursday, Geva Theatre Center halted ticket sales for its final week of “Once” and “Cry it Out,” intending to provide video access to the shows to current ticket holders. The following day, however, theatre officials announced that remaining performances had been canceled.

Officials said ticket holders could receive access to videos of the shows, receive a credit toward a future production at Geva or could donate the value of their tickets as tax-deductible contributions.

“Transferring your ticket to a donation supports Geva during these uncertain times,” officials said in a statement. “We will continue to pay our artists and staff during this crisis and your donation will help the theatre meet these obligations.”

The Strong National Museum of Play also closed its doors Friday evening.

“The museum prioritizes the health and well-being of its members, guests and staff,” museum officials said in a statement. “While we are confident that the museum continues to maintain a clean environment, as a large gathering place, the museum believes it’s in the best interest of the community to take this decisive action.”

The museum said it is hoping to reopen on April 13 and will extend all current memberships by one month.

The Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center also will be closed indefinitely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Obviously it’s a difficult situation that not only the convention center is in but everybody’s in these days in Rochester and around the country,” said James Brown, executive director of the convention center. “First and foremost we’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of our clients, our guests and certainly our employees.”

The convention center has responded immediately to the directives on mass gatherings that came from both the city and the state in the last week or so, Brown said.

“It’s certainly going to affect the convention center directly but also the community,” Brown said of the closure. “Because a lot of these events are either visitors or local community residents who come here for various events.”

Brown has found that bookings have been both postponed and canceled. For those that want to postpone, the question that must eventually be answered is will the convention center have dates available to accommodate those events?

“That’s a great question because that really comes down to availability. If someone wants to move a month or two and is looking for a Saturday, well there’s only so many Saturdays and a lot of our Saturdays are booked here,” Brown said. “That being said, if things progress in a negative direction in the country, we’d have a lot more dates open, but that doesn’t mean anybody’s going to be using them.”

Like others in the industry, Brown said he’s hoping for a quick return to business.

“We would like to be open and back in business as soon as possible and safe for all concerned,” he said. “We fell we play such a vital role in the community as an asset to public gatherings and it’s just part of what Americans do and enjoy doing. Hopefully this will pass in a reasonable amount of time and we can get back to business and helping to relocate our clients and our guests and certainly getting all our employees back to work and fully employed.”

On March 16, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut set new guidelines for bars, restaurants and casinos, and while many restaurants have made the switch to takeout and delivery only, del Lago Resort & Casino has temporarily closed its facilities.

“We are grateful for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s swift action and leadership to protect our state as the COVID-19 pandemic advances,” said Brent Stevens, CEO of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the company that owns del Lago. “Although there have not been any known COVID-19 cases at our casino or in Tyre, (Seneca County, where the casino is located) we are following the governor’s lead in being proactive during this time.”

Casino officials said all employees will be paid for the two-week period that the organization is planning to be closed. Employee paychecks, paid time off and benefits will not be affected during the period.

“Del Lago Resort & Casino’s foundational pillar is to put our community first, and it is our duty to protect our employees and local residents and minimize the risk of community spreading,” Stevens added. “New Yorkers are resilient, and during these trying times we will work together to make it through. We are confident that when we reopen our doors every patron will feel safe and ready to resume normal activities.”

Del Lago is a $440 million casino and 205-room hotel and spa. It features 1,650 slot machines and 66 gaming tables, as well as a 6,000-square-foot sportsbook lounge with a restaurant and bar.

As noted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, states that are most dependent on tourism will suffer greatly during the coronavirus pandemic, and even those that do not will see an economic slump. Some 4 percent of New York State’s GDP is tied to travel and tourism.

Already Hawaii is predicting a $300 million hit to tax collections and a loss of 6,000 jobs in the service industry because of a decline in visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. About 16 percent of Nevada’s economy came from tourism in 2018, or nearly $28 billion, and Hawaii was at 10 percent and $10 billion, Pew reported.

“The situation around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold quickly,” officials at Visit Rochester said Tuesday. “It goes without saying that this is a particularly uncertain and difficult time for the tourism and hospitality industry as a whole, including here in our own community. It is ultimately too early to know what the exact economic impact of the pandemic will be on the tourism and hospitality industry, but we anticipate that it will be significant.”

vspicer@bridgetowermedia.com / 585-653-4021 / @Velvet_Spicer

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