Hotel and lodging group: Illinois’ lack of clarity on reopening will have long term consequence

(The Center Square) – An advocate for Illinois’ hotel and lodging industry says while other states are opening up more fully, the lack of clarity from Gov. J.B. Pritzker on when Illinois will open up will have lasting consequences.

Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association President Michael Jacobson said there’s no middle ground in Illinois on opening things up for conventions to drive major economic activity.

“As of right now, there’s nothing between Phase 4 where we’re limited to events of 50 people, to Phase 5 where everything goes back to 100 percent capacity and goes back to normal,” Jacobson said.

Pritzker as recently as last week couldn’t say when he’d announce Illinois is in Phase 5 of his COVID-19 reopening plan. The state has been in some form of Phase 4 for months with capacity restrictions on gatherings over 50 or even fewer, depending on a tiered system the governor unilaterally announced.

The plan the governor announced last year has the state entering Phase 5 with no restrictions when a vaccine or a therapeutic is widely available. Pritzker hasn’t elaborated on what that looks like.

Over the past few days, Jacobson has been regularly posting to Twitter stories of other states opening their economies, or announcements of convention planners canceling their Illinois events well into August.

“Once we lose these shows, we are at significant risk of losing those conventions permanently to these other states, so it’s going to have a much longer term economic impact on our state than most people realize,” Jacobson said.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbot announced the state would reopen 100% beginning March 10.

“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100%. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”

Other states that are relaxing COVID-19 mitigation include Mississippi, Louisiana and Michigan.

Last week, while touting more vaccine distribution and mass vaccination sites opening around the state, Pritzker wouldn’t elaborate on when Illinois would open up.

“About one in seven Illinoisans already have their first dose in their arms,” Pritzker said. “We need to get closer to herd immunity.”

He didn’t elaborate on what constitutes “herd immunity.” But he said things are open right now.

“We’ve not had a stay-at-home order since back in April and May,” Pritzker said. “Restaurants are open, bars are open, all across the state of Illinois, gyms are open, we have sports running in our schools, and so on. Not to the extent that we’d all like.”

Jacobson said Pritzker’s lack of clarity on when things will open more fully is compounded by other states announcing their opening back up.

“These meeting planners need months of preparations and the fact that we’re not getting clarity right now is putting business at risk in August and September and even later into 2021 and 2022,” Jacobson said.

Without having more capacity, Jacobson said, conventions won’t come to Illinois, and that has a ripple effect.

“Hotels typically generate $8 billion in tax revenue at the local and state level each year and what people don’t realize is that without that tax revenue, each household in Illinois would be responsible for $1,600 more each year in taxes,” Jacobson said.

The latest data published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security showed in December there were more than 193,400 fewer jobs in leisure and hospitality over the year, a drop of more than 31 percent. That’s the largest of all employment sectors.

State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said on Twitter Monday the governor should increase convention capacity from 50 to 150.

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