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Illinois restaurants & hotels will struggle for years to come

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- While many businesses are re-opening, the hospitality industry continues working to recover from challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Illinois Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee heard concerns from industry leaders. These leaders said their main priority has always been the health and safety of employees and customers.

Restaurants have already re-opened with limited indoor capacity in Phase 4. However, Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said that's not enough.

"We're not asking for 100% of capacity, that's not what were asking for," said Toia. "We're just asking for social distancing, keeping masks on, clean and sanitized place, PPE in place but we need the metrics."

Toia suggests that moving forward the state could start rapid COVID testing at the door for larger events. He said if the state only allows gatherings of 50 people, large events like concerts may not return to Illinois.

"If these events leave us, and they will, they'll go to other cities and they won't ever come back," said Toia. "My colleagues in the hotel and convention community can attest the massive, massive ripple effect this has on business throughout the region."

"Restarting" the hospitality sector

Meanwhile, Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association President Michael Jacobson said people don't know Illinois business owners struggle the most. He explained big name hotels like Hilton or Marriott aren't always run by corporate millionaires at the local level.

"In fact they're all individually owned and operated as franchises, with most being owned by local residents right here in Illinois." said Jacobson.

Jacobson emphasized these local Illinois residents continue to suffer. He said vaccinating hotel employees opens the possibility for allowing large events to take place.

The Tourism and Hospitality Committee didn't exist a year ago today, it formed as a result of the pandemic. Chair-woman for the committee Sara Feigenholtz said after hearing from industry leaders, it's clear something needs to be done.

"We have got to restart this sector of our economy, and put these people back to work and get the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois rolling again," said Feigenholtz.

Others representing the hospitality industry stressed they cannot lose another summer to the pandemic. As is, these businesses may not fully recover until 2024.

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Ali Rasper

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