An employee at the Clevelander bar and restaurant on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Fla., stacks chairs Monday, July 13, 2020, after the restaurant had to shut down because of public health concerns caused by COVID-19.
(The Center Square) – Florida’s $90 billion tourism industry is suffering dramatic revenue and job losses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to curtail vacation travel to the state’s resorts, amusement parks and beaches.
Revenue losses in June, however, were half what they were in April, and that, industry advocates said, is cause for optimism.
“There is a little light at the end of the road,” Destinations Florida spokeswoman Jennifer Finnell said in introducing a 23-page study this week that documents just how long and dark that road has been.
Destinations Florida, which represents local tourism bureaus statewide, contracted with Tallahassee-based Downs & St. Germain to produce the study, which donated its resources to survey 997 tourism businesses in 37 of the state’s 67 counties.
Tourism-related businesses’ profits were down 83 percent in mid-April and by 51 percent in June, according to the study.
The study documents three phases – or “waves” – of the pandemic’a effect on the state’s tourism industry:
• Wave 1: March 19-24, with 995 tourism businesses in 37 counties responding.
• Wave 2: April 15-28, with 1,009 tourism businesses in 36 counties responding.
• Wave 3: June 9-29, with 210 tourism businesses in 24 counties responding.
According to the study, April tourism revenue dropped 82 percent compared with April 2019. April is a peak seasonal month for the state’s tourism industry.
Sustained losses continued, although slackened, with June’s revenues 45 percent below those generated last June.
Hotel occupancy dropped by 71 percent in April compared with the previous April, the study said. By June, hotels were seeing half the vacancies they experienced in April, but still were 35 percent below June 2019 occupancy rates.
Layoffs and furloughs peaked in March, with 67 percent of nearly 1 million Floridans with “direct” tourism-related jobs sidelined by shutdowns.
A Destinations Florida survey of more than 1,000 tourism-related businesses in April indicated 45 percent laid off staff over the first 15 days of April and 67 percent furloughed workers in March.
That layoff percentage declined to 17 percent in June, according to the most-recent study.
“The pandemic response has had a significant negative impact on the state’s economy,” Destinations Florida Executive Director Robert Skrob said in a statement accompanying the study. “However, there are signs of a rebound and Florida’s tourism industry, which is a key driver of employment and our economy, is working hard to put our state on a path to recovery.”
Three of four survey respondents said they have applied for federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, with 81 percent of them receiving the requested assistance.
More than seven in 10 tourism businesses in the survey said they fear pandemic shutdowns could last at least into 2021, although Finnell told the Orlando Sentinel that Destinations Florida is “cautiously optimistic” about the industry’s rebound.
“Our members have been doing a lot to keep their destinations at the top of mind for folks,” Finnell said. “They’ve been working very hard to keep their businesses ready. It’s about getting us in a good place as we continue to progress.”
Florida is heavily dependent on sales tax revenues generated by tourism. This year, state economists project nearly $7 billion, about a quarter, of the estimated $30.4 billion in sales tax revenues the state will collect will be tourism-related.