‘We’re back:’ Tourism industry leaders expecting big Memorial Day weekend

Airport numbers and hotel occupancy close to pre-pandemic levels this weekend

Thursday, thousands of families wearing Mickey shirts and Universal Resort masks arrived at Orlando International, officially kicking off travel for what’s expected to be a big Memorial Day weekend.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Thursday, thousands of families wearing Mickey shirts and Universal Resort masks arrived at Orlando International, officially kicking off travel for what’s expected to be a big Memorial Day weekend.

“The headline ought to be ‘we’re back,’ and we are on our way, continuing to be back better than before,” CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Phil Brown.

AIR TRAVEL NUMBERS

According to airport officials, last year, as the theme parks were shut down on Memorial Day weekend, the airport recorded only 45,415 departures during the six-day Memorial Day period. But this Memorial Day weekend in 2021, traffic is up 550% with nearly 300,000 estimated departures.

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“When we look at the 10-day forecast, it looks like we are going to be at 88% of what we were in 2019 which is good news for us. There is actually one day which is Sunday we will actually exceed 2019 levels.”

Brown reminded 2019 was a record-breaking number, the best year for Orlando tourism ever according to Visit Orlando.

“We had 51 million passengers, no one had ever seen that in any airport,” Brown said. “So yeah, we were on a tremendous upswing and then 15 days later we were on a cliff. But we came back and that proves how resilient Central Florida is.”

Not only are there more people traveling to Orlando this Memorial Day weekend, but Brown said airlines are adding flights, destinations and increasing seat capacity. At Orlando International Airport, nonstop domestic seat capacity from June through August is actually 7% higher than in the summer of 2019.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Brown said. “People that know me to think that’s out of character for me because I’m usually pessimistic, but we have seen enough traffic and evidence that things are starting to turn around.”

HOTEL OCCUPANCY NUMBERS

According to Visit Orlando, Orlando is AAA’s top destination for Memorial Day, WalletHub ranks Central Florida as the nation’s best summer travel destination, and U.S. News & World Report lists Orlando/Disney World as its top family vacation spot for 2021.

“The recovery is coming along much faster than many expected,” Visit Orlando’s Director of Market Research and Insights Daryl Cronk said. “We are seeing signs we will back to 90-95% of our pre-pandemic levels hopefully this weekend and going into summer.”

Typically on Memorial Day weekend, Cronk said hotel occupancy is 85-90% booked. According to Visit Orlando data, June hotel bookings are only about 25% below where they stood at this point in 2019.

“Really encouraging signs about how quickly the recovery is taking shape,” Cronk added. “We have a situation where there is money for travel, a sense of safety thanks to the vaccine and there is a lot of pent-up demand and we are seeing that now in signs for summer being positive.”


About the Author:

Nadeen Yanes joined News 6 as a general assignment reporter in 2016. She grew up in Leesburg and graduated from the University of Florida. Nadeen has won three Associated Press Awards for her reporting on the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the trial of the Pulse gunman's wife and the capture of an accused cop killer, Markeith Loyd.