Dallas tourism industry celebrates convention center expansion and recovery

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The bass drum of the South Oak Cliff High School Marching Band echoed through the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on Thursday morning, literally knocking dust off the ceiling lights.

It was the first time VisitDallas, the city’s nonprofit tourism board, has held its annual meeting in person since 2019. Public health regulations and high caution have kept previous meetings virtual and optimism about the temperate future.

But not anymore.

At the convention center, hundreds of business leaders listened to hopeful speakers preach about resilience. The summer of 2022 could mark the start of a more prosperous period for hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists.

VisitDallas CEO Craig Davis said the industry is “getting into a rapid comeback from the pandemic.” US Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow has called Texas a “state of return” and Dallas “the city of return.”

Businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector have been hardest hit by the pandemic. In Dallas, group bookings at hotels plummeted and convention center guests canceled events en masse, resulting in a loss of more than $1 billion, according to VisitDallas.

The economic toll for the entire industry was more pronounced than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis combined, the tourism board said.

Restoring tourism spending in Dallas is key to the city’s growth plans for the near future. He recently approved a $2 billion plan to expand the convention center that will be paid for by hotel taxes, and Dallas aspires to bring the FIFA World Cup to the city in 2026.

Former Ambassador and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison speaks during the 2022 Visit Dallas Annual Meeting May 19 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas.(Liesbeth Powers / Special Contributor)

Speaking at the meeting, convention center namesake Kay Bailey Hutchison praised city officials for passing the expansion plan.

“The historic investment in this convention center is an investment in Dallas,” she said.

Over the past two years, Dallas-area hospitality, restaurant and event businesses have weathered not only unfavorable public health regulations, but also a nationwide power grid outage. government, inflation and a disrupted labor market for the foreseeable future.

Leisure travel is back and the United States is preparing for a very busy summer season. But in the eyes of the industry’s biggest advocate, obstacles remain.

During the event’s keynote, Dow said a patchwork of public health standards, pre-flight COVID-19 testing rules and travel visa wait times are still hampering the industry. travel and tourism. Conferences and slow-to-recover business trips are also pain points.

“If you look at that in Texas and Florida, we’re so different from the rest of the United States for travel and tourism and how they’ve handled the pandemic,” Dow said. “You compare it to California or New York, it’s a day and night difference.”

Members of the Dallas Black Dance Theater perform a dance for "A kind of Sunday love" to...
Members of the Dallas Black Dance Theater perform a dance to “A Sunday Kind of Love” at the VisitDallas 2022 reunion.(Liesbeth Powers / Special Contributor)

Dow had the crowd laughing when he slammed the US Centers for Disease Control, describing the agency as “a bit schizophrenic”.

The United States still requires a negative COVID test for international travelers coming here.

“How can you sit there and go to a Mavericks game or go to the Byron Nelson and see 20,000 people screaming and screaming and obviously not wearing masks and saying ‘Oh, but when you get on a plane it’s is dangerous’? No, it’s not,” Dow said. “So hopefully it doesn’t come back. The CDC is kind of schizophrenic.

The Dallas Mavericks dropped mask requirements during their games at the American Airlines Center in March as the omicron wave of COVID-19 waned.

Dow also encouraged travel company executives at the meeting to find new ways to attract a younger generation of workers.

“Our industry has nearly 75% of all jobs that cannot be filled,” Dow said, adding that many of those workers have left the workforce altogether.

“We have to think more creatively, we have to think differently. You have to think about part-time [work] and the gig economy,” he urged. “We have to think about how we can get people back to work.”

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