With Vermont's hospitality sector tallying an estimated $700 million hit from the pandemic, lodging properties and wedding professionals will make their case to state lawmakers this week about why they say they need a financial boost through economic recovery grants.
"The bleeding for all of us has not stopped," Brian Maggiotto of the Inn at Manchester said of the lodging sector's financial struggles brought on by COVID-19.
Hospitality and wedding professionals are pleading with the Vermont legislature to hear their voices as lawmakers work through how to spend the latest round of federal COVID aid.
Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, proposed using $50 million from the latest round of federal rescue money on economic recovery grants.
However, the hard-hit lodging sector insists the actual need is far greater, following travel restrictions and capacity limits that were put in place to slow to spread of disease.
Industry members who held a virtual press conference Monday said a prime challenge they are facing is the jump in prices of materials. Speakers said many businesses had to put off planned projects last year when cash was tight, but now those same jobs are much more expensive.
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Josh Eckler of the Trailside Inn in Killington pointed to price increases in lumber and plywood as examples.
"A lot of the maintenance that would've cost me $4 last year is costing me $16 this year," Eckler said.
Talena Companion of Premiere Entertainment said preserving a high-quality experience for newlyweds and wedding guests is a top priority, so many businesses must find a way to start addressing deferred maintenance.
"Whether it's a photographer with a camera that's too old, or it's a DJ with old speakers, those items need to be replaced and refreshed in order to provide a certain level of service that we've promised to our customers," Companion explained.
At the 1824 House in Waitsfield, owners Farrell Leo and Sean Kramer said they are so grateful Vermont's pandemic limits on out-of-state travel and gathering sizes are phasing out and should be gone entirely by July 4.
"You always have to look at the light at the end of the tunnel," Leo said.
The innkeepers and hosts of a wedding venue said COVID rescue grants were a big help, but added that the money never did make the couple whole.
Additionally, Leo and Kramer added, state restrictions stayed in place after those funds dried up, so bills kept coming while potential travelers and brides were still hesitant or unable to book stays and events.
"We just need that boost right now to help us get through to have these weddings this summer and fall," Kramer said of economic recovery grant money the industry is requesting.
Wednesday, lodging and wedding professionals will testify before a key legislative committee, and Companion said will communicate how financial support is critical if the state is going to remain a leader in tourism and destination weddings.
However, the groups can expect there will be a lot of competing interests and voices all advocating for how that federal rescue money should be spent.
The governor's other proposals for how to use $1 billion of the $2.7 billion Vermont is receiving from the American Rescue Plan include large investments in housing, broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, and measures to address climate change.
Leo and Kramer expect registrations to really pick up this summer, and are trying to stay focused on the long game while they work to rebound from months of losses.
"Hopefully, we're truly back to normal [in] 2022," Kramer said. "2023, we're going strong."