Missouri’s governor announced $15 million in grant funding on Thursday to help rebuild Missouri’s tourism industry, which has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Missouri Tourism Director Stephen Foutes briefs Capitol reporters in Jefferson City on July 16, 2020 (photo courtesy of the governor’s Flickr page)

The state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) says Missouri has seen 30,422 confirmed coronavirus cases, along with 1,113 deaths.

State Department of Economic Development (DED) Director Rob Dixon tells Capitol reporters in Jefferson City that the grant funding will help the tourism industry make attractions safer.

“So many Missouri destinations and businesses are working hard to stay open, to support the countless jobs that depend on this industry, while protecting the safety of their workers and their customers,” Dixon says.

Under the program announced Thursday by Governor Mike Parson, $15 million in CARES Act funding will be designated for destination marketing organizations, which are entities that promote Missouri as a place to visit. The money can be used for things such as payroll relief and reimbursement for safety equipment.

State Tourism Director Stephen Foutes says the funding will also provide enhanced safety efforts for events.

“Qualified DMOs can apply to have costs associated with things such as temperature screenings at events or event facilities offset through this program,” says Foutes.

Foutes says conventions are non-existent now in many Missouri communities, because of COVID. Dixon says about 58,000 Missouri food service workers lost their jobs between March and June, because of the pandemic.

Missouri’s tourism industry generated about $14 billion in 2019.

During the media briefing, Missourinet asked Director Dixon about the pandemic’s impact on the vacation town of Branson, which is in southwest Missouri. Dixon says tourism in the Branson area has dropped significantly from COVID-19, in both Stone and Taney counties.

“We’ve seen early on that in particular higher unemployment rates and things like that than the rest of the state, and that kind of follows trends around the world, around the country in particular, of where those effects are seen,” Dixon says.

Before COVID, millions of people visited Branson annually. The town has about 57,000 theater seats, and anglers from across the Midwest fish for bass and crappie on Table Rock Lake.

As for Governor Parson, he praises the grant funding and says this is a great time to support local communities through tourism. DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams agrees and emphasizes the importance of social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands.

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