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Paul Arrigo, President/CEO of Visit Baton Rouge.

A range of emergency measures are being taken by the Visit Baton Rouge board of directors to allow the office to keep operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

With board approval Thursday, the tourism agency can now tap into nearly $3.2 million in reserve funds that had been set aside for emergencies and for building improvements.

Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer, and Scott Michelet, board chairman, have more power to take actions without board approval. The Visit Baton Rouge staff is working remotely.

Hotel lodging tax revenues, which fund the agency, has dropped sharply. For the week that ended Saturday, Arrigo said hotels brought in 64% less revenue and the occupancy rate was down to 32%. Typically in March, the occupancy rate is about 63%.

Arrigo expects the numbers to drop further. “I anticipate the occupancy rate will be down in the 20s and the teens in a few days,” he said.

A prolonged loss of customers could cause some hotels to go out of business, Arrigo said.

Not only are hotel tax revenues drying up, but it will take Visit Baton Rouge more time to get the money. In an effort to help businesses struggling with the pandemic, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome last week gave them an additional two months to turn in sales tax payments. So this means the February hotel tax payments, which would normally come in during April, won’t be paid until June.

“This is nothing different than what every CVB is experiencing right now,” Arrigo said. “We’re all doing what we can to rebook events for when business comes back.”

As of last week, Arrigo said 45 conventions have canceled or postponed plans to meet in Baton Rouge. That represents $7.2 million in direct expenditures and 21,000 visitors. Ten tour groups have canceled plans to visit the city, representing another 600 visitors. And the Mississippi River cruises that make regular stops have been halted.

By allowing the use of cash reserves, Arrigo said Visit Baton Rouge should be able to keep operating through July at its current pace.

Tourism industry experts around the country are saying that business should come back for Memorial Day, but Arrigo said the question is how many visitors will show up. “What’s it going to be like on Memorial Day?,” he said.

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