Travel Forecast Offers Troubling Numbers for Florida

A forecast from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) finds just 56 percent of Americans plan to travel for vacation this year, a significant drop from the past and potentially a bad sign for Florida’s struggling tourism industry.

Leaders of the industry, like Roger Dow, the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, are trying to stay positive despite the bad news.

“Travel has spurred economic recovery before. We saw it after 9/11, following the 2008 financial crisis, after the BP oil spill, after devastating multiple natural disasters, but this is our toughest challenge yet,” Dow said. “Some predict it will take five years to recover from the pandemic. That’s far too long.”

A similar optimistic message is coming from the AHLA.

“COVID-19 has wiped out 10 years of hotel job growth. Yet the hallmark of hospitality is endless optimism, and I am confident in the future of our industry,” said Chip Rogers, the president and CEO of AHLA. “Despite the challenges facing the hotel industry, we are resilient. Hotels across the country are focused on creating an environment ready for guests when travel begins to return.”

Travel industry groups want more help from Washington, despite getting a couple of helpful provisions in the last round of stimulus passed in December. The U.S. Travel Association wants millions poured into Brand USA, a public/private partnership to promote tourism from abroad.

“We’re encouraging the administration to establish a national plan to build confidence in domestic travel through clear public health guidance…and to boost travel demand with aggressive economic stimulus measures,” Dow said. This includes $550 billion in new spending that would be used to modernize roads, airports and railways.

The travel industry is also asking for more Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. The AHLA estimates there will be 500,000 fewer jobs in the industry by the end of the year due to the pandemic.

“AHLA is eager to work with the new administration and Congress on policies that will ultimately help bring back travel, from helping small business hoteliers keep their doors open to ramping up vaccine distribution and testing,” Rodgers said. “Together, we can bring back jobs and reignite a continued investment in the communities we serve,”

The numbers are a stark reminder that Florida’s top industry could face challenges in the coming months. Business travel is down 85 percent and half of the hotel rooms across the nation are expected to remain empty.

The highest unemployment in Florida continues to be in Osceola County which supplies a large number of workers for Orlando’s tourism industry. The AHLA estimates the effect of the pandemic on tourism is nine times worse than the drop experienced on 9/11, a tragedy it took the tourism industry years to recover from.


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