By Steve Large

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The coronavirus crisis is forcing big cutbacks to Visit Sacramento, the organization that brings in tourism dollars to the city.

This week, Visit Sacramento laid off a third of its staff, citing a drop in funding from the city’s hotel occupancy during the governor’s stay-at-home order.

The timing of the cuts comes as construction of the expanded Sacramento Convention Center continues, with what had been hopes of a boom in visitors.

“We made a difficult decision,” Visit Sacramento President and CEO Mike Testa said.

Fifteen employees were let go and more have been furloughed. The agency is down to nine employees working at a 20% reduction in pay.

READ: Sacramento Convention Center Project On Track To Be Completed By End Of 2020

Before the coronavirus hit, 40 people were on Visit Sacramento’s staff.

Funding for the agency comes mostly from Sacramento hotel room occupancy which sank from 84% last year — to just 15% now.

“It’s a big hit for everybody,” Testa said.

The remaining Visit Sacramento staff is now dedicated to booking for the remodeled convention center, which is set to re-open at the beginning of next year.

Fifty-two events are already on the calendar for 2021. But will they stay booked?

“Sure there is that concern,” Testa said. “Will the company that was going to send four delegates only send one now? Will we have to practice social distancing and how will that impact the convention?”

Sacramento State professor of finance Sanjay Varshney says Sacramento’s tourism economy will only rebound if there is clear messaging from public leaders that it is safe to come here.

“We gotta find a way, to also adapt to the new reality, just like we did after 9/11,” Varshney said. “We didn’t stop flying altogether.”

This $200 million convention center remodel with a ribbon-cutting expected at years end. Will Sacramento’s coronavirus recovery plan be ready for it?

Testa says some years Visit Sacramento has had a budget of $13 million. Right now he’s projecting his budget to be just $2 million for the next year.

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