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Coronavirus has been a gut punch to Florida tourism, but report indicates there are some signs of recovery

Monday, July 20, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak was destined to hurt Florida tourism, but the depths of the impact detailed in a new 23-page study shows at least some signs of improvement.

Destinations Florida, an association representing local tourism bureaus throughout the state, commissioned the study. It found a tourism industry far from full recovery.

“There is a little light at the end of the road,” said Destinations Florida spokesperson Jennifer Finnell.

The study, conducted by Tallahassee marketing research firm Downs & St. Germain, tracked the impact of the pandemic through three phases: late March, late April and late June.

The study showed tourism revenue dropped 82% in April compared to April, 2019. Losses have waned a bit, but remained down 45% in June.

Hotel occupancy dropped 71% in April compared to a year ago, but rebounded to just a 35% decline in June.

“The pandemic response has had a significant negative impact on the state’s economy. However, there are signs of a rebound and Florida’s tourism industry, which is a key driver of employment and our economy, is working hard to put our state on a path to recovery,” said Robert Skrob, executive director of Destinations Florida.

Tourism industry layoffs peaked in March at 67% of all workers among 997 tourism businesses surveyed in 37 Florida counties. That dropped to 17% in June when 210 tourism businesses were surveyed in 24 counties.

While the rebound remains in question due to a resurgent virus, Finnell said the main focus among many tourism businesses is to prepare for a full recovery when the pandemic subsides.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Finell said. “Our members have been doing a lot to keep their destinations at the top of mind for folks. They’ve been working very hard to keep their businesses ready. It’s about getting us in a good place as we continue to progress.”

While many tourism-related businesses are gearing up for post-coronavirus days, many seem to betting the pandemic will be prolonged. More than seven in 10 tourism “stakeholders” believe the pandemic shutdown won’t be completely over until at least 2021.

Though minute, the report offers some hope in what have otherwise been dark days for Florida tourism.

Orange County, known as the world’s biggest tourist destination, was shut down almost entirely by the coronavirus crisis in April. The result was a 97% drop in the county’s tourism tax revenues. There was little change in May, which tracked down 95% year-over-year.

In the weeks since, Orlando theme parks have reopened and vacation rentals, which were banned early on in the pandemic, have resumed.

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