‘People are wanting to travel:‘ Central Florida tourism industry works to recover amid COVID-19 spike

Tourists slowly returning to one of nation’s most popular destinations

Travel numbers continue to climb as the Florida economy enters the fifth month of dealing with the coronavirus.
Travel numbers continue to climb as the Florida economy enters the fifth month of dealing with the coronavirus.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Travel numbers continue to climb as the Florida economy enters the fifth month of dealing with the coronavirus.

Headlines from across the country and world calling Florida “a new coronavirus epicenter” do not appear to be stopping travelers from visiting the Sunshine State.

Statewide data from Visit Florida shows hotel revenue and demand slowly rising after a low point at the end of March and into April.

It might be easy for some to understand why Tiffany Smith and her friends flew in for the weekend from South Carolina: She’s a nurse and all her friends work in health care. The pandemic has created a tough few months for them.

“It’s depressing for the patients, the residents and the families because they can’t get in and [we have to] to tell them, ‘Sorry you can’t come,’” she said. “It’s frustrating. We just needed to get away, if only for a weekend, and to see some different scenery.”

They make up some of the tourists slowly returning to one of the nation’s most popular destinations.

Becca Bides serves as the vice president of communication at the tourism agency Visit Orlando.

“People are wanting to travel,” she said. “It’s there, it’s a matter of giving them the information when they’re ready for it.”

New data from Visit Orlando shows hotel occupancy in the Orlando metro area slowly rising, hitting 29.3% capacity through July 4, including the highest daily levels since mid-March on Friday, July 3 at 37% and Saturday, July 4 at 39.7%.

According to Visit Orlando, the average daily rate rose more than 10% to $88.93, only 20% off last year at this time.

Bides said many of those tourists come from within the United States.

"When you look at the current challenges with overseas travel right now, some borders are closed, [there's] the longer travel and the flights," she said. "We are focusing at Visit Orlando [and] we are shifting our focus 100% on the domestic market."

Bides detailed Visit Orlando’s three-phase plan since the pandemic began:

  • Phase one: Maintaining awareness and virtual opportunities for tourists
  • Phase two: Focus on safety measure underway
  • Phase three: Showcasing reopened destinations

Bides explained how their organization is beginning to move into Phase three when it comes to attracting visitors, thanks in part, to Disney World’s phased reopening beginning on Saturday.

“You cannot overstate the importance of Disney on our local economy,” she said. “That’s our number one employer, and the revenue they generate and the revenue that goes into helping the community and payroll. You can’t overestimate the value of Disney and I think that’s going to really be a shot in the arm for our community.”

To keep up with the latest news on the pandemic, subscribe to News 6′s coronavirus newsletter and go to ClickOrlando.com/coronavirus.

About the Author:

It has been an absolute pleasure for Clay LePard living and working in Orlando since he joined News 6 in July 2017. Previously, Clay worked at WNEP TV in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he brought viewers along to witness everything from unprecedented access to the Tobyhanna Army Depot to an interview with convicted double-murderer Hugo Selenski.