TUCSON, Ariz. — The travel industry in Arizona has been hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus-related closures came at the height of Arizona's tourist season.
"It's really been a challenging time," according to Arizona Office of Tourism Director Debbie Johnson.
Johnson knows firsthand what a challenging time it is for the Arizona tourism industry.
She has been tracking the impact the coronavirus has had on the nearly $25 billion dollar a year industry in the state.
"What we've seen about 75,000 employees laid off or furloughed just in Arizona in the tourism industry."
The Arizona Office of Tourism has teamed up with with the Arizona Commerce Authority Office of Economic Opportunity. The partnership connects displaced hospitality workers with industries that are urgently hiring during the COVID-19 crisis.
Johnson says the tourism industry generates $1 billion in tax revenue for the state annually.
She knows closing the Grand Canyon has had a major impact on Arizona.
"It's really people all around the world who come to enjoy it," points out Johnson. "It's devastating, but we know that it will reopen again. When it does, we just want to do it in the right way and make sure we're being smart a bout it."
The Arizona Office of Tourism has been tasked by Governor Doug Ducey to help formulate a plan for the state to reopen.
"We want to all make sure that we're prepared when that time comes. Right now, we're getting feedback from our business operators and owners to get their input on what they need. We're working on those details and we'll put together a plan."
The tourism industry could play a major role in the return of sports in the country. Major League Baseball is considering a plan to play its season, with potentially all 30 teams, in the Phoenix area.
"Obviously, anytime we bring people in it would be significant. But you can't, probably, bring visitors in. There wouldn't be people in the stadiums watching. I think everybody right now is in a holding pattern to kind of see where we go."