By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) — This is a big week for the Greater Boston economy.

The Boston Marathon marks the unofficial kickoff of the high tourism season after a couple of years of severe pandemic damage to that key industry.

READ MORE: Video shows tornado in Charlestown, New Hampshire

Here to talk about the future of the tourism industry, the economy, and more is the President and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Jim Rooney.

Jon Keller: From your perspective, what are the serious hits our economy has taken from COVID?

Jim Rooney: The hospitality and tourism industry. Anything that involved gathering suffered greatly. And you look at our restaurants, our entertainment venues, sports facilities, hotels…

JK: Foreign tourism in particular, right?

JR: Well, the foreign visitors…think about the type of visitors that Boston attracts, largely a good international group. Business travelers, tourists, conventions, and meetings. But think of medical travel, think of college-related travel, all of that is down, and it has reflected in the results of the last two years.

READ MORE: Bemis fire in New Hampshire's Crawford Notch, White Mountain forest is 45% contained

JK: The CDC had extended the airline mask mandate into May after it was supposed to expire this coming Monday. Are you comfortable with the extent to which pandemic precautions have been relaxed, both in terms of government policy and public behavior?

JR: Yeah, comfortable may be too strong a word. We’re mindful among our members, of course, are the leaders of the medical community in Boston, who are constantly reminding us that this isn’t necessarily over. We have to be diligent that the good weather is a good sign, but we’ve seen in Philadelphia, for example, where they’ve returned to mask mandates and certain restrictions. So being diligent and being patient, we’ve done it for two years, being patient for a few more weeks is not the end of the world. Comfortable? No, but we have to accept the realities.

JK: There’s been a lot of talk about downtown Boston. A lot of people did remote work, and a lot of employers and employees have discovered they prefer it and can do it without a drop off of productivity. Is downtown ever coming back or is that wishful thinking?

JR: I think it’s coming back but not in the way we knew it before. There’s a lot of existing inventory of space downtown. I think the mix will change, Jon. I think, as you said, there’s a lot of workforce, particularly in districts like the Financial District that may get repurposed over time to more residential. There’s a lot of talk and need for a lab space. So there’s a lot of conversion that will take place and what I think of is the activity centers, whether it’s the South Boston waterfront, the Financial District, the Back Bay and other places. But that will be long-term. That will take all of five years for that to find itself in terms of what the uses of these buildings will be. It will look different

Vitality comes from people, and think of people as residents, think of people as workers, think of people as we started the conversation as tourists and visitors. There’s a number of strategies for attracting them back.

Keller @ Large: Part 2

MORE NEWS: Edwin Fantauzzi identified as suspect in reported Downtown Boston rape

Jon Keller