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Hassan discusses winter tourism at virtual roundtable


September 24, 2020
REGION — Last week, Sen. Maggie Hassan heard from New Hampshire tourism leaders about the upcoming year-end season. Participants included representatives from the NH Brewers Association, the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Executive Director of Ski New Hampshire.

Hassan opened the meeting by saying, "I know what a critical driver of travel and tourism is to the New Hampshire economy. We know what an enormous impact COVID-19 has had on the industry and the entire economy. It's critical that we are safe to be sure, but it's also critical that I know what's happening on the ground and how the federal government can be helpful."

According to State Tourism Director Laurie Harnois, one of the department's most pressing goals is to continue a PSA campaign encouraging visitors to practice social distancing, wear masks and be responsible travelers. She said the tourism department used CARES Act funding to bolster various Chambers of Commerce across the state and requested an extension on the Dec. 30 deadline for funding expenditures.

Hassan responded that she had already begun work alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa to advocate for the deadline extension. This summer, Hassan worked to secure the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act, which preserves and maintains public lands such as the White Mountain National Forest.

Paula Kinney of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce reported a successful ATV season in the Great North Woods region, despite increased signs of trash and rude behavior.

She said, "I think we need a lot more education out there. Our other big problem up here is employee retention. A lot of the restaurants can't stay open every day anymore. They're all closing or shortening their hours."

Kinney continued to discuss education and visitor respect.

"When you understand that you are protecting other people when you wear a mask and it's not just about protecting you. Actually, you get protected when somebody else wears a mask and vice versa. I think sometimes people are willing to take a risk," she noted.

Ski NH Executive Director Jessyca Keeler said the organization was currently working with state officials to develop guidance for the upcoming ski season. She described scenarios of keeping people safe in ski lodges when social distancing would be physically difficult.

"We know things are going to be different this year. Each resort will have different things going on and some operations may be different. Educating people is a big thing for us this year too," she stated.

Keeler suggested a "know before you go" approach to the ski season. She anticipated capacity restrictions at several New Hampshire ski areas.

Granite State Brewers Association Executive Director CJ Haines mentioned the volume of small brewery operations that would be negatively impacted by the return of cold weather.

She said, "I would say almost two-thirds of New Hampshire's 92 breweries are fairly smaller in size. When limited outdoor seating goes away, their cap room sales are going to dwindle again."

As winter approaches, outdoor seating will no longer be viable for several North Country breweries. The anticipated decreased revenue will negatively impact New Hampshire breweries, as will an expected federal excise tax increase at year's end from $3.50 a barrel to $7.

New Hampshire Breweries also face increased aluminum tariffs, which Hassan said she'd been addressing before the pandemic struck in March.

"In the time of COVID, the impact is even greater," noted the Senator.

According to a statement issued by her office, Hassan is pushing for additional comprehensive COVID-19 relief packages. Her goal is to drive further economic assistance to businesses, non-profits and individuals.

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