Vaccine eligibility expansion could help Florida’s economy

Economist believe Central Florida may have full recovery before 2023

ORLANDO, Fla. – Tourism leaders in Central Florida are reacting to Gov. Ron Desantis opening up eligibility to those 40 and older next week and then to all adults over the age of 18 on April 5.

This comes less than a week that Walt Disney World cast members part of the Unite Here Local 362 protested outside of Walt Disney World urging Governor Ron DeSantis to prioritize hospitality workers.

Unite Here Local 362 represents hospitality workers at Disney World from custodial to ride operators along with food and beverage workers at the Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport.

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“Hospitality work is based on customer interaction and what we know is interaction passes the virus so being able to get the vaccine now is the right thing to do,” President of the Unite Here Local 362 Eric Clinton said. “I had a cast member tell me he interacts probably interacts with 5,000 people every day,”

Thursday, Clinton was happy the latest COVID-19 vaccine announcement came this quickly.

“This is terrific news, if you are a frontline worker whose job is interacting with the traveling public this is welcomed news,” he said. “So slowly and surely everyone will, fingers crossed get called back.”

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According to the latest data from Visit Orlando, leisure & hospitality employment peaked in February 2020 at 279,900 jobs. Industry employment hit rock bottom in May of 2020 at just 116,900, a loss of 163,000 jobs (-58%). By December, industry employment was up to 190,800, a gain of 73,900 jobs from the low-point in May but still down 89,100 jobs from February’s peak.

The President of the Central Florida Hotel Lodging Association, Robert Agrusa also sent a letter to the Governor three weeks ago asking for hospitality workers to be prioritized after law enforcement, teachers, and firefighters.

“We felt like that was key in order to help rebound our industry,” Agrusa said. “From housekeeping to front desk workers, food and beverage, many of our GMs are multitasking because they are understaffed because those employees they had a year ago are furloughed or either don’t have the desire to come back or fearful of the unknown.”

He believes shots in the arms will make all hospitality workers feel more comfortable about interacting with the increasing number of guests flying into Central Florida.

According to the Orlando International Airport, last weekend was “one of the busiest weekends since the pandemic began both nationally and at Orlando International Airport.”

As the demand for more tourists grows, the workforce needs to rebound back with that leaders say.

UCF Professor and Economist Sean Snaith saying the fast rollout of vaccines could make for a recovery quicker than expected.

“One year ago today, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that would say in a year from now things are going to look pretty strong,” Snaith said. “We have come a long, long way in one year’s times.”

Visit Orlando market researchers felt like we wouldn’t have a full recovery until 2023. Snaith thinks that might soon change with vaccines more readily available.

“I think it will likely be sooner than that, possible sooner than 2023,” he said.

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