The COVID-19 Crisis is a public health crisis unlike anything we’ve experience in our lifetimes. Sheltering at home, social distancing protocols and personal protective equipment are flattening the curve. At the same time, our economy has been hammered.

Cities all over the country are facing massive tax revenue hits as large swaths of the economy have simply shut down. Cities like Anaheim with strong tourist economies have been hit the hardest. Tourism accounts for nearly half of Anaheim’s 170,000 jobs. Half of the city’s tax revenues are generated by the Anaheim Resort – revenue that funds vital public services such as police, fire, parks, libraries and more.

Each month the Resort is shut down, almost 50,000 people aren’t able to work, and the city loses $20 million in tax revenue.

Last month, Mayor Harry Sidhu and the City Council approved a Community and Economic Recovery Plan.

This four-pronged strategy aims to:

  • Connect those residents most in need with assistance in partnership with the Anaheim Community Foundation. To that end, the city council approved $8.5 million in emergency funding.
  • Expand assistance for residents who are struggling with housing costs, assisting the homelessness, and endeavoring to keep the city workforce on the job.
  • Position Anaheim to immediately capture business and market share when the economy – especially the convention and tourism sector – begins to recover as the Resort is re-opened.
  • Encourage Anaheim residents to shop locally and Anaheim businesses to hire locally as our local economy re-opens consistent with public health and safety protocols.

A key component of the Community and Economic Recovery Plan was allocating $6.5 million from the Anaheim Convention Center reserve fund to ensure Visit Anaheim can continue its critical work of bringing conventions and tourism to Anaheim. Obviously, the Resort is currently closed according to state and county public health directives.

At some point, the pandemic-induced shut-down will come to end. Penned-in families and individuals will plan much-needed vacations. Conventions will book locations – and in fact, that is already happening. They will have a wide range of options from which to choose. We want them to choose the Anaheim Resort. It won’t just happen, like flipping a light switch, on its own. It’s important to the get a jump on other destinations now to grab that business for Anaheim and expand market share.

That’s what Visit Anaheim has been doing. Visit Anaheim responded to the economic shutdown by dramatically reducing staff and compensation. Nearly 60% of its staff – including much of the senior staff – has been either furloughed or laid off, and a hiring freeze instituted. The remaining staff has taken a 25% pay cut, while the senior leadership has reduced their own pay by 50%. This blog is not aware of any government agency that has effectively reduced payroll by 80%.

Nonetheless, this core remaining staff – an economic recovery team – has been making impressive strides implementing their part of the economic recovery plan.  In just the past couple of weeks, Visit Anaheim has already booked eight new Convention Center bookings and re-booked two cancellations stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

These bookings alone represent more than 200,000 visitors to Anaheim, generating nearly $500 million in local spending in hotels, restaurants and other businesses. That translates into desperately needed jobs and $9.2 million in transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue for the city. That is a significant return on the $6.5 million the city invested to keep Visit Anaheim at work – and in less than a month.

In addition, Visit Anaheim is actively tracking down and pursuing multiple leads valued at nearly $60 million. Clearly, Visit Anaheim’s ability to continue marketing the Resort and booking business is critical to the Anaheim economy’s ability to bounce back as quickly as possible.

Visit Anaheim is also working with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and the local business community drive customers to Anaheim restaurants and businesses that are open on a retail-to-go basis, to help local businesses – and the jobs they support – stay in business.

The city has a full plate during this unprecedented calamity. Mayor Harry Sidhu and the city council are facing the worst crisis to his Anaheim in almost a century. They have laid out a strategy: protecting public health; getting assistance to the neediest residents; maintaining vital public services; and planning for economic recovery.

It has been less than a month since the council approved Mayor Sidhu’s plan, and it is already yielding concrete progress toward getting the city’s economy back on its feet. The course and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is largely out of the control of any local government. But each has a role to play, and Mayor Sidhu and the council majority are making positive, deliberate strides towards ensuring the city emerges in the strongest possible position when the time is right to safely re-open the economy.