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From the left, Heather Lyons, Laken Lyons, Hadley Vines, 10, and Amber Vines, visiting from Tennessee, shop in Old Colorado City on Saturday, July 18, 2020. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

A House panel on Thursday took the first steps toward creating a $10 million program to incentivize meetings and events in Colorado.

House Bill 21-1263 from Reps. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Matt Soper, R-Delta, would provide a 10% rebate of hard costs and 25% rebate for COVID-19-related safety expenses for meetings, conferences, weddings and events that generate at least 25 overnight stays in Colorado hotels.

“We believe it will accelerate the return of in-person events to Colorado,” Roberts told the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.

That acceleration is necessary, Soper said, because the tourism industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

“The leisure and hospitality industry continues to account for 39% of all of lost jobs nationally,” Soper said, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data he said applied to Colorado. “To be able to get this industry back up and going from the hit that they took from the pandemic is very important.”

The proposal generated strong backing from tourism-adjacent industries, with representatives from the Vail Valley Partnership, the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Colorado Brewers Guild and the Brewers Association all testifying in support.

Doug Price, president and CEO of Visit Colorado Springs, told the panel “there is no economic recovery for Colorado without a travel, tourism and meetings recovery.”

“The largest number of small business closures are associated with our sector and some of the greatest drops in government tax revenues are a result of the downturn in our sector,” he said, adding the bill could provide a “shot in the arm” and “help our economy immensely.”

Lawmakers on the Business Affairs and Labor Committee from both sides of the aisle agreed, voting 10-3 to advance the bill to the House Appropriations Committee.

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