Orange County’s economy on a ‘slow,’ ‘steady’ rise to recovery

Economic forecasters, tourism leaders present at Tourism Development Council Meeting

Economic forecasters and tourism leaders say Orange County’s economy is on a slow rise to recovery during several presentations given to the Tourist Development Council Friday morning.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Economic forecasters and tourism leaders say Orange County’s economy is on a slow rise to recovery during several presentations given to the Tourist Development Council Friday morning.

The council meets quarterly and this was the first time they met since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We call this pattern the Nike swoosh,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “This is what our recovery track might look like. It’s a slow one. It’s a steady one.”

Visit Orlando was one of four presentations to the council on Friday, showing several graphs on how in April the pandemic devastated Orange County’s tourism economy. Visit Orlando showed local and state occupancy rates bottomed out the week of April 5th at 12.5%, the lowest ever recorded even after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the Great Recession, Aguel said.

"The numbers are very sobering, nobody in our industry has ever seen anything like this," Aguel added.

Hotel occupancy graph presented by Visit Orlando. (Visit Orlando)

That same graph, however, showed a slow climb to higher hotel occupancy rates for the month of July. This comes after Universal Studios and Sea World opened their doors in June.

"The impacts in having Universal open in June and Sea World following is what's benefiting, what is not shown is the Disney reopening," Aguel added.

However, he said July 4th was the best weekend yet in terms of hotel occupancy numbers with 39.7% of the hotels being booked.

"We did have a good July 4th weekend," Aguel said. "Aquatica actually sold out on July 4th weekend, this is what we talked about the consumer comfort level with being outdoors."

University of Central Florida professor and economist Dr. Sean Snaith also presented numbers showing how Orlando’s unemployment rate is forecast to lower as well. The graph he presented showed recession-like numbers with 13.2% unemployment in the second quarter of this year, but projecting a 5.8% unemployment rate at the same time in 2021. That is, he said, if the pandemic doesn’t force our economy to shut down again.

“The bottom line here is public health measures is going to shape this recovery. Further implementation or re-implementation of shut downs will be devastating to the economy,” Snaith ended his presentation. “Barring that, I think we will see a robust economy as we begin to see the second half of 2020.”

Orlando's unemployment rate projections. (Institute for Economic Forecasting)

Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond also presented the devastating numbers collected in Tourism Bed Tax Dollars for April and May showing a 97% and 95% drop. He is expected to see those number rise as June numbers come out in a few weeks, which marked the start of phase two in the state along with the reopening of Universal Studios and Sea World.

"The increases are not as large as we want or as fast as we want, but they are increases and hopefully that's what we are going to keep on seeing for a long time," Diamond told News 6.

As for recent criticism nationally with the reopening of Walt Disney World in the past week as the cases continue to rise, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings addressed it in the meeting.

“To me, America needs a safe place where residents can go to exhale. Florida needs a safe place for its residents to exhale, what we have endeavored to do here is to be that place,” Demings added. “The last four months, the theme parks have studied very carefully the emerging medical science and response to the current era that we are living in, in order to safely reopen commerce.”

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