Hotel, tourism and arts officials have until Monday, Nov. 9 to apply for new state grants from a $20-million pool set up to curb the closing of businesses and nonprofits struggling from the coronavirus, and government restrictions meant to stop the spread.
But some say the $20 million is too little to seriously help Rhode Island’s multibillion-dollar travel and tourism industry.
Others say one part of the program that offers up to $1-million grants favors big hotels and leaves out smaller lodgings.
“It’s a start. Nothing’s perfect,” said Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. ”It’s the first time hotels will get a shot at getting some money.”
House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, R-Block Island, is critical of some of the grants available to larger hotels.
“There are few, if any, small business hotels that have 200 rooms,” he said, referring to one requirement. “The program is clearly a state bailout to large out-of-state corporate interests, not Rhode Islanders. This program should be expanded to all hotel owners, regardless of size.“
Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, a nonprofit that promotes Newport and surrounding towns, said many potential grant applicants have questions that he hoped state officials would answer.
He added, “Travel and tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry. Thanks for the program, but $20 million doesn’t solve a billion-dollar problem.”
He also said if other sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing or health care, were suffering similar losses, the state would put down a lot more to solve the crisis.
Matt Sheaff, director of communications at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, said that as with all COVID-era programs, the state will explore additional support, especially if there is a new round of federal stimulus funding.
Rhode Island’s leisure and hospitality industry has been hard-hit since the outbreak of the virus in March, and after governments here and across the country imposed restrictions on travel, gatherings and business.
Since the spring, a typical hotel in Rhode Island has lost 85 percent of its revenue, Farouk Rajab, chairman of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, told The Providence Journal. He said half the hotels in Rhode Island will close by the middle of next year without “substantial” state and federal aid.
Thousands of workers have been affected.
Jobs in accommodation and food services are down 12,100 from peak employment of 53,000 in February, according to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. Jobs in arts and entertainment are off 2,300 since the peak of 8,200 in February.
In a statement, Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the RI State Council for the Arts, said, “During the pandemic, the arts sector literally ground to a halt. Theaters and concert halls and museums were shuttered and artists and cultural workers lost