Looking to play ‘leading role’ in recovery, state tourism officials devise safety certification for attractions

With the summer travel season underway, the Missouri Division of Tourism plans for tourists to safely return to the state’s many attractions. A task force composed of industry leaders from various sectors of tourism set their sights on creating best practices for welcoming travelers back.

The division voted Tuesday to move forward with the creation of a universal certification of health and safety for businesses looking to reassure customers as they return to their venues. Officials agreed that the guidelines must be flexible enough to be applicable to locations ranging from restaurants to theme parks, without sacrificing safety or effectiveness.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development will have a final look at the proposal before this certification is made official and brought to area businesses. The guidelines will incorporate recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as suggestions from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for protecting customers from contracting the coronavirus.

“We’re hopeful that we as a division can play a leading role in jumpstarting the economy, when people are ready to and feel safe traveling again,” said Stephen Foutes, director of the tourism division.

Although attractions were closed to the public during the statewide stay-at-home order, the tourism division developed ways to bring those attractions to the people. This included behind-the-scenes live shows at the St. Louis Zoo and a virtual cocktail concocting lesson at J. Rieger & Co. Distillery in Kansas City.

With a decline in travel expected to continue, encouraging Missourians to explore their state has become a large marketing focus, especially in rural areas.

“I feel that Missouri has an incredible amount to offer as far as those people who want to just take that short vacation,” Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said.

Many of the destination marketing organizations associated with the tourism division have seen drastic reductions in funding since the onset of the pandemic. These organizations receive a large part of their funding from hotel lodging taxes, which have plummeted due to the recent lack of hotel guests.

The tourism division offers matching grants that pay half of the expenses of advertising incurred by these destination marketing organizations. With the anticipation of more partners participating in this program in the coming year, the division has allocated $3.24 million, or 18% of its 2021 budget, for assisting these organizations. However, the local organizations cannot depend solely on the cooperative funding, given that it requires matching funds.

State tourism officials say that funding for these organizations is crucial because they provide a direct link to the public, informing them when attractions reopen and encouraging their return. Nearly half of the current budget for the division is spent with its marketing agency, and another $4.5 million will be redistributed from other division expenditures and added to the marketing budget for the 2021 fiscal year.

As revenue decreases, the division has been forced to make cuts, with more expected to come in the future. Funds for administrative costs, research and the printing of travel guides were among the first round of cuts for the upcoming fiscal year.

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