49ºF

Visit Florida tries to speed up tourism industry’s return to normalcy

File photo (WPLG)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After COVID-19 cut Florida visitor numbers last year by about a third, tourism-marketing leaders have set a goal of beating a projection that the vital leisure and hospitality industries won’t return to normal until 2024.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young on Thursday called the effort “a big one” for an agency that has “faced many challenges.”

“Our team is driven to exceed that projection, to beat that projection, because with tourism making up roughly half of all of our sales-tax revenues for the state of Florida, as goes our tourism industry, so goes the recovery of our state economy,” Young said as the tourism-marketing agency’s board met at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista.

“If we can beat those projections and recover a month, three months, maybe six months earlier, maybe, maybe more than what they’re predicting, that would mean that our economy here in Florida will recover that much faster,” Young continued.

The state agency released estimates Monday indicating the state handled 86.714 million travelers in 2020, down 34 percent from the previous year and the lowest number in a decade. Domestic travel was down 29.7 percent last year, Canadian tourism was off 64.5 percent, and overseas visitors fell 70.4 percent.

Last month, Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, advised lawmakers the tourism industry is in for another difficult spring because of COVID-19 and that big-spending foreign tourists aren’t expected to flock to Florida in the coming months.

The state has seen an uptick in people driving to Florida, which has been a goal since last summer of Visit Florida. Young said Thursday the state has begun marketing to California, Oregon and Washington, after months of targeting East Coast regions easily drivable to Florida.

“There is so much pent-up demand. And there are several direct flights from those areas to a lot of different areas in our state,” Young said. “So, we’re excited to see how this works out.”

The test for Florida will be getting back long-distance air travelers.

Baker said during a January appearance before state lawmakers that on average tourists who drive to Florida don’t spend the same amount of time or money as foreign travelers and others who fly into the state.

And Baker said while tourism numbers show expected improvements during the coming year, it might not be until 2024 before normalcy returns to the hospitality and leisure industries that have suffered the most from the pandemic.

“So, 2021 will still be low. By the time we hit 2022, you can see we have pretty sharp growth,” Baker said to lawmakers. “From that point forward, we think it’ll be more slow recovery, but that we should be approaching normal enough to say that we’ve recovered by 2024. So, that’s our current expectation.”

The forecast came as President Joe Biden reimposed a travel ban on European countries, adding South Africa to a list that also includes Brazil, the United Kingdom and Ireland, due to new COVID-19 strains.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked legislators to budget $50 million for Visit Florida for next fiscal year, the same as in the current year.


About the Author: