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Tourists take pictures of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador, on Aug. 15, 2016.Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is launching a $25-million program to support the province’s ailing tourism sector.

Premier Dwight Ball said the government recognizes tourism’s role as an economic driver in the province, noting it has been one of the “hardest-hit” industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Local economies are energized by the tourism operators. They are key to sustaining many of our rural and small communities,” Ball told a news conference Monday.

“By supporting tourism we are fostering economic development, which is critical to diversifying, growing and strengthening our economy.”

Under the Tourism and Hospitality Support Program, small and medium-sized tourism operators can apply for one-time funding contributions of $5,000 or $10,000, depending on their gross sales.

The province says the money will come from “existing resources” and from a COVID-19 contingency fund legislators approved this spring.

It is a short-term program aimed at helping operators cover business costs as they face losses from the steep drop in out-of-province visitors this year.

Ball said approximately half a million people from outside Newfoundland and Labrador usually visit the province each year.

But non-permanent residents are currently banned from entry as part of the effort to limit COVID-19 infections, keeping visitors and their tourism dollars away during a typically busy summer season.

A government news release says the tourism and hospitality industry represents 20,000 jobs in the province and generates more then $1.14 billion in spending each year.

Operators with gross sales of $100,000 or less are eligible for $5,000 and those with gross sales greater than $100,000 are eligible for $10,000. Applications to the program open June 8.

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