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Fighting to save a 'forgotten industry'

Hospitality and tourism have been hit hard by pandemic

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses of all kinds to adjust to a new world, but some industries have been decimated. Rockville Centre native Zachary Kranitz, a veteran of the tourism and hospitality trade in New York, is trying to persuade the state to assist what he calls “the forgotten industry.”

“Once the pandemic hit, the industry has been forgotten by so many,” said Kranitz, the former director of sales at the Staybridge Suites Times Square. “No other industry has had a higher unemployment rate due to the pandemic.”

According to the state’s website, tourism in New York generated $19.3 billion in tax revenue in 2019, with $9.1 billion accruing to state and local governments. Though there were numerous Assembly meetings focusing on Covid’s effects on small businesses, the Assembly’s Tourism Committee has not met since 2019, and the State Senate’s Tourism Committee met only twice in 2020. Kranitz, who was laid off last May, sees this as a major issue for the state’s economy and workers.

He identified Sen. Jessica Ramos, of the 13th District, in Queens, who was once a member of the Tourism Committee, as a powerful progressive voice who has helped get more essential workers into the vaccination process. But Kranitz said he was disappointed with the response he received when he offered Ramos information and statistics about his industry on Instagram.

“It’s not forgotten,” was Ramos’s Instagram response. “We’re aware but there’s no economic relief currently possible and we can’t reopen tourism. Hang in there.”

“The pandemic has forced thousands of hard-working people out of work, and forced thousands of businesses to close, with nothing more than just a ‘hang in there,’” Kranitz said.

So, in an effort to better communicate with state and local officials about the importance of the industry, Kranitz assembled a group of hospitality professionals that is calling for a five-point plan to start the conversation on what can be done to assist them. The plan includes starting a reopening campaign; adding hospitality and tourism workers to the 1B vaccination group; and working with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO to temporarily relax regulations so businesses can reopen and bring staff back.

Alan Mindel, managing partner of Samar Hospitality, which has properties in Nassau County and Queens, is a member of Kranitz’s team. “When people from Elmhurst Hospital didn’t want to go home to get their wife and kids sick, and they stayed in one of our hotels for less than half the rate for four months, we were thrilled to have them, but lost money every day, and I felt we were pretty essential,” Mindel said. His properties also housed nurses who came in from out of state last year and, more recently, vaccine workers.

“As an industry, we shouldn’t be depending on private donations from people like David Portnoy to keep our lights on,” Kranitz said, referring to the founder and CEO of Barstool Sports, who has given businesses a financial boost during the pandemic. Kranitz and Mindel both said they felt as if state officials had forgotten them — but local officials, such as Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, have helped by expanding indoor dining capacity to 50 percent. Curran said she planned to send a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to request that the 10 p.m. restaurant curfew to be moved back to midnight, since contact tracing has not linked many cases back to restaurants.

“Tourism is not merely a luxury — it is integral to Long Island’s economy and New York state’s success,” Sen. Todd Kaminsky said. “Assisting this vital industry and our local businesses in recovering from the pandemic needs to be a priority in Albany this session. I am hopeful that with an influx of federal funding in the next Covid relief package, we can help revitalize hospitality and tourism across our region and the state at large.”

Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a member of the Assembly Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry, said she, too, was optimistic that the pending federal relief package would provide state and local officials with the opportunity to spark the tourism industry once again.

“This solid investment in tourism has the potential to create jobs, provide a boost to restaurants and drive spending to this sector and in turn revive the economy in localities throughout New York state,” Griffin said. She also signed a letter, along with District 69 Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development, requesting that the state make an investment in the arts as part of the effort to reinvigorate local tourism.