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Economic Damage from Canceled Political Conventions Illustrates Greater Pain

The virtual Democratic and Republican national conventions taking place this month highlight how essential in-person meetings are to the U.S. economy.

There is always a certain negativity surrounding political events, as politicians seek to one-up rivals for elected office. But this year the negativity is also in the bank balances of hotels, restaurants, taxi drivers, and many other businesses in both Milwaukee, Wis., and Charlotte, N.C., where the political conventions have pulled out as a result of Covid-19 precautions.

When the destination cities were announced last year, local councils estimated that the conventions would bring in $200 million (Milwaukee) and $121 million (Charlotte). In fact, the latest assessment from Oxford Economics suggests that Charlotte will actually lose close to $290 million in expected income to businesses due to the convention moving online.

In a visual guide to the economic impact of just these two political headline events out of the thousands of conventions that take place in the U.S. every year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association demonstrates how meetings and business travel touch almost every sector of the U.S. economy. One example is James Weymann, the owner of a Charlotte limousine company who was depending on political-convention income after the pandemic slowdown. During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012, his company did the equivalent of three months of business in four days.

While the DNC and RNC are high-profile events, they each draw only around 50,000 delegates, less than half the number of attendees for trade shows such as the National Association of Music Merchants (115,000 attendees and now canceled for January 2021) and CES (182,000 attendees) and countless other events that support local economies around the U.S. In a statement, Chip Rogers, CEO of AHLA, made the case for additional government support for pandemic-ravaged industries. “In 2020 alone, state and local governments nationwide are expected to lose nearly $17 billion from the drop in travel. With business travel not expected to resume at normal levels until 2023, hotels and local economies in conference and convention markets will be pushed to the brink of collapse. That’s why it is vital that Republicans and Democrats come together to provide additional relief for industries impacted by this unprecedented health crisis.”

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