LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville Tourism was approved for a $ 1.3 million PPP loan last week. This is the first financial support the agency has received to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The loan will be used specifically for payroll and rent, freeing up the already tight household budget to do the work necessary to market the city, attract more tourists, and introduce more conventions.

“Tourism is devastated across the country,” said Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism. “For us, tourism is the third largest industry in the state and we want to be competitive when we get to the other side.” of this.”

Williams and her team have been fighting for months to get tourism agencies to apply for federal loans through the SBA. These Kentucky organizations faced a major barrier in finding financial assistance through 2020 because they did not technically qualify.

“We have been classified as a government agency,” said Williams. “We didn’t get any money from the city or the state, but that’s how we collect our temporary room tax through the Revenue Commission.”

Around 95% of Louisville Tourism’s budget comes from the temporary room tax, which has been heavily impacted with so few people traveling and booking hotel stays during a pandemic. The other 5% of the budget comes from advertising and partnerships, which have also suffered.

The tourism agency’s budget prior to the pandemic was nearly $ 25 million, but it has now been slashed to about $ 10 million. And without that credit, Williams said the group was preparing to have to make further cuts.

“We had to make cuts – pay cuts – we put people on leave, we laid people off,” said Williams. “And we’ve been limping along for the past six months at best.” So it couldn’t have come at a better time. And we’re thrilled that – if you will – we can get through the next four or five months and really promote, market and be competitive. “

A state task force was set up over the summer and worked successfully with Congress to change the classification of the tourism organization. After the final round of federal aid was approved, Louisville Tourism applied for and received a $ 1.3 million PPP loan last week. Williams said SBA had set the loan size for the current budget and size of Louisville Tourism.

The board met on Thursday to revise the budget for the fourth time and take on the new boost. It’s not clear how much of the loan will be taken, but Williams said the revised budget takes this into account.

“We have planned accordingly,” said Williams. “We check whether we have to repay 20 to 30%. We are positioned for that. But if it’s 100% forgivable, we have a lot to celebrate. “

Williams anticipates vacation trips will increase in the spring as more vaccinations are available nationwide, and she expects convention business to be more stable by the fall. In early January, Louisville Tourism forecast that the city’s top 15 events and conventions tentatively slated for 2021 could create an event economic impact of more than $ 350 million.

“We’re booking conventions in 22 and 23 and 24 and 25 and beyond,” said Williams. “And not only do you need the team to do this, you need the ability to do it in order to be competitive with these other cities.” bid against us. Louisville was a hot travel destination a year ago. And when we get to the other side, we’ll be that hot target again. And now with the PPP we can take a breath and let the employees do the work we need. “

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