Tourism in Florida fell 10.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020 from the same period a year earlier, and the estimate may be optimistic.
The final month of the quarter, March, was impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic, which essentially shut down the hospitality industry statewide. A report posted online by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing arm, said “data previously used to estimate Florida visitation may not paint the full picture during COVID-19.”
The report estimates that 31.95 million people visited the state during the first three months of the year. That compares to 35.79 million visitors during the first quarter in 2019.
Visit Florida also has pointed to potentially long-term effects of the coronavirus on the tourism industry, saying people are expected to initially prefer short drives rather than long flights as they look to travel. Also, the report said the virus is expected to have a major impact on people flying in and out of the state, which provides key data for quarterly tourism estimates.
“In many ways, COVID-19 has the potential to impact consumer behavior for years to come,” the report, dated May 15, said.“We know that this rebound is going to take a while, and we have to make sure that Florida continues to be a top travel destination,” Visit Florida Chief Marketing Officer Staci Mellman told members of the agency’s Executive Committee in a May 7 conference call.
A checkpoint intended to reduce the spread of the virus by limiting access to the Florida Keys was lifted after two months on Monday. The Key West Chamber of Commerce said on its website that lodging will be limited to 50 percent of standard occupancy for the beginning stages of reopening.
Meanwhile, Visit Florida staff put current marketing plans on hold as it has worked on a “rebound plan” that will initially focus on Floridians taking in-state trips. The multi-step plan must still go before the organization’s Board of Directors, which is next scheduled to meet June 24.
In 2019, Florida attracted a record 131.4 million travelers, making it the ninth consecutive year of increased tourism numbers.Domestic travelers, accounting for 28.5 million of this year’s first quarter visits, were down 9.7 percent from last year. Overseas travelers dropped 20.6 percent and Canadians dropped by 14.4 percent in the same year-to-year comparison.
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