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While restaurants recover, the Charlotte hospitality industry continues to struggle

Half of the people unemployed in Charlotte right now are from the leisure and hospitality industry, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — As some Charlotte restaurants close for good, new data shows most open restaurants in North Carolina and South Carolina are almost back to pulling in as much revenue as they did this time last year.

However, the numbers, collected by Womply, show the news is not nearly as positive for travel and tourism businesses.

While the average Mecklenburg County restaurant revenue last week was down 16% compared to the same week in 2019, the average travel and tourism revenue was down nearly 50% compared to the same week in 2019, and several surrounding counties are feeling it too, according to Womply's data.

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Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray said the $3.5 billion local restaurant industry is down $825 million in revenue, while the $810 million hotel industry is down about $380 million. Of the 84,000 people still unemployed right now, Murray said roughly half work in the leisure and hospitality industry.

According to the CRVA, from March to April, 74,000 people lost jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry. Today, only 39,000 of those people are back working, according to CRVA.

According to the CRVA, group demand is down 90%, while weekday corporate demand is down 70%.

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Murray said there are some glimmers of hope though. Weekend travel is nearing 2019 levels and some of Charlotte's largest visitor attractions are now among the first to be certified for cleaning and health improvements, which could make them frontrunners when visitors start feeling safe enough to travel again, Murray said.

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The Charlotte Convention Center, BoPlex, NASCAR Hall of Fame and Spectrum Center are now home to improved ventilation systems, added protective equipment and touchless sinks and doors, as well as upgraded cleaning techniques.

"It's certainly been a rocky road for our industry, but we do have hope that there is another side of this COVID," Murray said. "Hours and hours and hours of manpower have been put into making sure that we've changed our environment, so we're ready for customers when they arrive. We want to give our customers comfort that they're coming to a place that is ready for them."

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Murray said uptown has suffered the most, but with more people wearing masks and encouraging news about vaccines, he remains optimistic.

"We had incredible momentum. We kept setting records year after year with the strength of the hospitality industry and kept growing the number of people working in the industry and really, the growth, particularly in the food and beverage industry, was huge," Murray said. "We're comforted that the conditions that were presented by COVID are not the ones that we will go back to. We know that the business volumes will recover and we've worked with our meeting planners and know they're anxious to get back to meetings, but certainly people want to travel when it's safe, so we feel good about that piece of it."

Murray said the CRVA is working with the health department and visitors, hopeful Charlotte will be able host some events this winter, but said everyone wants to do so in a safe way that respects the seriousness of COVID-19.

Just last year, the hospitality industry employed 147,000 people across the region, which is the equivalent of roughly 1 in 9 people, according to the CRVA.

"It's a big deal that 1 in 9 people are not fully recovering yet," Murray said.

The CRVA is encouraging you to visit charlottesgotalot.com for ideas about how you can "safely support the businesses and people who make up the hospitality and tourism industry.

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