RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There are 28,000 jobs in Wake County’s hospitality sector that rely on visitors spending their money, but once COVID-19 hit and restrictions were put in place, leisure spending came to a screeching halt, according to Visit Raleigh.

“It’s all about people in this industry and it’s the people and the jobs that we’ve lost. We were the first to get shut down, the first to have to put people in the unemployment line,” said Scott Peacock with Visit Raleigh. 

Peacock says in 2019, a new record was set when 18 million people visited Wake County spending almost $3 billion and generating $284 million in tax revenue. 

“The tourism industry literally went from what was going to be the highest of highs to completely having the rug swept from underneath us,” said Peacock. 

Leon Cox is the general manager for the Sheraton in downtown Raleigh. He says in the past year, he’s had to lay off about 60 percent of his staff. Now, one year later, about 30 percent have come back.

“When we get weekends like this and Valentine’s Day weekend yes, we have the opportunity to bring staff back get people some work and that is the most gratifying part of what we do.  It gives them the opportunity to get back to some type of normalcy,” said Cox. 

He says he is confident that will continue as more people become comfortable traveling again.

“Some of the people that travel a lot we’re seeing that a little bit better during the weekday and on the weekends is when we’ve seen the spikes in leisure,” said Cox. 

Cox tells CBS 17 as occupancy grows and restrictions are lifted more staff will be added. He also said Raleigh will host more sports tournaments and conventions.