By Monique M. Messier, Executive Director, Discover Central Massachusetts

By now you most likely have a good idea about the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the tourism industry and the havoc it continues to cause. Hotel occupancy is down by more than 50% from where it was at this same time last year in 2019. Travel experts are forecasting a 40% loss in travel spending in 2020 due to the pandemic, which translates to a loss of 1,600 jobs and close to $20 million in state and local tax revenue (taxes include lodging, meals, sales, payroll, excise, property, fuel, etc.) in Central Massachusetts.

The question is how far does tourism reach down into our communities? It may be further than you think.

Tourism is an industry with deep roots in the economy, and it touches many more businesses than most people think about when they hear the word tourism.

To get technical for a moment, the definition of a traveler, used by state travel offices across the U.S., is someone who travels 50 or more miles one way from his or her home or stays overnight in a paid accommodation.

Travel spending supports 6 main industries including: public transportation, auto transportation, lodging, entertainment, recreation, and general retail trade.

According to VISA domestic credit card data provided by the state office of travel and tourism, the impact of traveler spending reaches far and wide and is a major contributor to our local economy. The data shows a significant impact to small businesses that most would not associate with tourism but is indeed traveler spending. Again, these are people who do NOT reside in the region.

Spending by VISA domestic credit cardholders residing outside Massachusetts in 2016 shows that in Worcester County alone, these travelers spent more than $1.4 million in pet stores, in excess of $1 million in motion picture theaters, over $700,000 at opticians, almost $500,000 in parking fees, garages, and meters, more than $350,000 in walk-in dry cleaning, almost $300,000 in antique shops and roughly $80,000 in bowling alleys.

Remember, these numbers are from just one of the major credit card companies and do not include travelers who paid with cash, nor spending by international travelers to our region. So, multiply these spending numbers by three (or four) and it creates a compelling case about the important role that tourism plays in supporting both small business and our overall health of the economy.

Supporting small business through hospitality is critical in weathering the COVID-19 storm. The numbers show the power of the industry and how its comeback can help rebuild the economy through the tourism sector.

The #WeLoveWorcester campaign created by Discover Central MA was created to do just that, support small business while respecting the COVID-19 guidelines. Patrons of local establishments, were and are, encouraged all summer long to submit a photo while wearing a face covering ultimately showing their support of Worcester’s small businesses.

Each week one winner has been awarded $25 for the most creative photo and at the end of the summer, one lucky patron will be awarded a cash prize of $1,000. Photos may be submitted to Discover Central MA through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or by sending an email to

Visit to learn more about this campaign and how you can help support the region’s small businesses.