Tourism
State

The War on Florida’s Tourism: Attack on All Fronts

We all have a common enemy. As of late, that enemy has been the COVID-19 virus. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as an absolute enemy to the state. Many sectors of the Florida economy see themselves in shambles as we have entered an era dominated by the ‘Zoom apocalypse.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively been one of the more exploitative events that have occurred in the tourism sector. Nearly every sector of tourism suffered in Florida.

The Florida economy relies heavily on the tourism sector. It produces nearly $70 billion a year. 

The usual tourism level decreased with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing recession. Especially impacted are those involved in small businesses. Millions of people are now living with the socioeconomic repercussions from the pandemic. 

Ecotourism, usually one of the more overlooked sectors, took a hit. Ecotourism is a form of tourism focused generally on nature, placing value on both environmental education and appreciation.

Ecotourism was attacked. The sheer nature of these businesses can’t survive when people are mandated to stay indoors. People are withheld from the opportunity to even visit parks. 

But the locals had the most to lose.

“Many of these businesses just barely make enough money to stay in business, so having to close their doors was very traumatic,” Dr. Taylor Stein explained to the Florida Political Review. “I believe government assistance saved many of them, but it will take time for them to get back on their feet and start working with visitors.” 

Stein serves as a Professor of Ecotourism and Natural Resources Management at the University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences.

Stein also commented, “Ecotourism is more than just making money. It provides immense benefits to visitors to get into nature to relieve stress, get physically fit, and be with their families.” 

This presents the intersectional issues caused by the pandemic. It was a war of attrition on tourism and the citizens of Florida, affecting people in ways they could never have considered.

Even worse, many areas have not been quick to reopen. Stein details how many ecotourism activities in Ocala National Forest remain unopened; for example, you still can’t rent canoes. 

This war of attrition continues in the fight for vaccinations. Stein reiterated just how impactful COVID-19 vaccine policies have been to the ecotourism business of Florida.

“Federal employees are quitting,” said Stein, some of whom have chosen not to get vaccinated. Biden’s vaccine policy effectively opened a pathway to ecotourism for travelers “open to getting the vaccine,” closing the door for others. 

Many worry how this will affect the national park service. Nearly 50% of the forest rangers who work for the federal government are 40 years or older.

A very small population of federal employees with a niche skill is being cut down. According to Chad Hooper, Executive Director of the Professional Managers Association, “People who maybe were going to work eight or ten more years… are considering retirement instead of being vaccinated.”

Some wonder if the government has enough of a readiness plan to replace the lost federal employees.

The pandemic was destructive to the tourism sector to say the least.

Florida’s daily travel index reported a 34% decrease in cars arriving in the state. Scheduled air capacity has decreased by over 4% for all international travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving week holiday.

On Sept. 9, a large number of shares dipped on the market to many of the major airlines. This is mainly due to the rise in COVID-19 cases and restrictions, impacted by the ongoing Delta Variant. 

American Airlines expects to see a continued decrease in bookings through September, effectively shutting off a good portion of their third-quarter revenue. United Airlines announced they cut a portion of their flight schedules this year in order to meet the lower demand of travel. Even Southwest Airlines reported a weakened demand in third-quarter travel, with an increase in cancelations and slower bookings through October.

The nature of the Delta Variant is not only hurting much of the airline industry’s ability to stabilize bookings, but it is further delaying the recovery process for the travel industry.

Hotels are seemingly just as distraught. Current revenues are now teetering to the levels seen before the onset of the pandemic in January 2020. Visit Florida has reported a 9% decrease in the overall demand of hotels in recent years.

Instability is the name of the game, and it presents an issue many economists say may be here to stay.

The road to recovery could be a long one — one that many in the tourism industry are continuing to fight head on.

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured image: Miami International Airport. Unmodified photo by Sebastian Stephan Thiel used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3eO0LdN)

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