ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County’s tourism tax coffers are slowing filling again more than six months since coronavirus closures first impacted the county’s theme parks, hotels and tourism as a whole but with Florida now lifting most COVID-19 capacity restriction, there is uncertainty of what that could mean for the state’s lower coronavirus numbers.
Tourism development tax dollars collected from hotel stays in Orange County were down 71% in August compared to the same time last year due to coronavirus closures and layoffs, Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond said Monday. The county collected more than $5.7 million in TDT taxes in August, an increase by about 6% from July.
This is still an improvement over previous months. The county saw $5.2 million in July, and at its lowest collected just $750,000 in April.
“There certainly are signs of the continued incremental recovery, as well as significant uncertainties. Occupancy rates rose to about 50% over the long Labor Day weekend. But (hotel) room inventories were down by about 25% due to hotel motel closures and average room rates also fell during that time,” Diamond said.
TDT dollars are used toward tourism-related projects including the Orange County Convention Center and performing arts centers. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings made the decision to suspend or cancel all contracts tied to the convention center’s expansion earlier in the pandemic.
The slow improvement is reflective of lower coronavirus deaths and cases, Diamond said, also noting that there have been no virus outbreaks connected to any area theme parks.
However, Florida just entered phase three of reopening lifting most capacity restrictions, which brings uncertainty about what impact this will have on these positive virus trends, Diamond said.
“People will be more likely to come visit here and if they feel safe, then I think lower positivity rates and lower numbers cases, send the message that they can be safe,” Diamond said.
Quantesa Watson is one of them.
She travelled from Georgia to Orlando with her son.
“We’ve been in the house for so long working in virtual school, so I’m like, ‘You know? Now is as good as any time,’” she said.
Watson said her son is still attending virtual school while they’re on vacation.
“It’s convenient to be able to travel and do schooling at the same time because otherwise, I would have had to wait until school went on vacation to where I could travel,” she said. “I was able to bring him along and bring his laptop along and it all worked out.”
Central Florida’s unemployment rate still remains highest in the state and is expected to worsen with Disney Parks announcing more than 6,600 will be laid off from the company’s Florida locations in December.
The county will release September tax numbers in early November.