Director's Message: A look at a difficult year

The Delaware Tourism Office team began FY 2020 developing new programs and hitting record breaking sales and visitation numbers. It was shaping up to be another year of large, positive economic impact in the state.

Then in March 2020, when the world came to a halt, so did tourism in Delaware. The industry both here and nationally has taken a significant hit throughout the pandemic. New public safety measures impacted every corner of the hospitality industry, from restaurants to museums and performance venues to hotels. Tourism’s economic landscape chALTanged overnight. 

The Delaware Tourism Office’s response also happened overnight. DTO’s sales and marketing team turned into a rapid response team to providing business owners and travelers important and up-to-date information about the impact to Delaware of COVID-19 through countless phone calls, webinars, e-mails, and, of course, Zoom meetings. Our goal was to make sure that the tourism industry and its customers knew what was happening in Delaware.

DTO served on a state advisory team that helped define a path forward for Delaware’s tourism industry as the governor tried to balance public health with economic health.

Within days of the start of the State of Emergency, our parent Division, the Division of Small Business, worked hard to stand up the HELP loan program to assist Delaware’s hard-hit hospitality sector. To date, more than 350 businesses have received about $8 million in loans. This was one of the first programs nationally to assist the tourism industry.

The DTO sales and marketing team has continued to balance marketing Delaware to out-of-state travelers with sending the message of the importance of following COVID safety practices. In a typical year, our three-person sales team brings in more than $11 million in economic impact from leisure travelers, group tours and sporting events. Despite the challenge of the pandemic, during the first six months of FY 2021, our team reached its goal of $5.5 million in economic impact as well as an estimated $1.2 million in hotel revenue through integrated marketing campaigns.

As we move further into the calendar year, we continue to balance COVID-19 response and working with sporting events, group tours and leisure travelers on making plans to visit Delaware in 2021.
Tourism remains a vital part of Delaware’s economy. Prior to the pandemic, the tourism industry contributed $3.5 billion annually to the state’s GDP and was Delaware’s fourth largest private employment sector, responsible for the jobs of more than 44,000 of our fellow Delawareans. From February – May 2020, the tourism sector lost 41,000 jobs which comprises 54% of all lost jobs at the time in the state. From March – December 2020, it is estimated that our average traveler spending month to month was -41%. This has been a truly challenging time but, the tourism industry is resilient. We will bounce back as we have done before.

The Delaware Tourism Office has already been working on expanding existing initiatives and developing new programs to keep tourism moving forward in a way that adheres to COVID-19 safety guidelines and protects the industries place in the state’s economy.

In our darkest days, Delawareans came together and remained strong, from state government to industry groups to small businesses. Together, we rolled up our sleeves to make sure that there would be a new day on the horizon for our industry.

Thank you to everyone and every organization that has participated in the many conference calls, strategy sessions or provided frontline feedback to the team. And thank you to our government leaders for making tourism a priority.