Update: Despite Shootings and Zika, Florida Tourism Remains Strong
While it’s too soon to gauge any impact on tourism to Fort Lauderdale because of the shooting, statistics from STR, a data analytics company in Hendersonville, Tenn., specializing in hotels, show only slight declines in hotel occupancy in Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale following the Orlando shooting and the presence of Zika in Miami. Occupancy in Miami, a city with about 54,000 hotel rooms, was down 2.6 percent for the first 11 months of 2016 compared with the first 11 months of 2015. In Orlando, a city with about 124,000 hotel rooms, occupancy for the first 11 months was down 1.3 percent compared with the same period in 2015, and in Fort Lauderdale, a city with about 31,000 hotel rooms, occupancy through November was down 1.8 percent as opposed to the same period in 2015.
But Bobby Bowers, an analyst at STR, said that while the presence of Zika and the Orlando nightclub shooting could be a factor in the downturns, the three cities have more hotel rooms than they did a year ago, so more competition may play a role in the decline. “You had years of booming growth, and all of a sudden, there was a slowdown, but that slowdown is because of a combination of reasons,” he said.
Hotel occupancy in these three cities aside, overall tourism to Florida grew for most of 2016. The state had more than 85 million visitors for the first three quarters of the year, an increase of 5.5 percent compared with the same period in 2015, according to Visit Florida, the state’s marketing corporation. Visits should continue to rise in 2017, said Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University in New Jersey.
“Florida is appealing for every kind of traveler, so the long-term tourism prospects are strong,” Mr. Pandit said. “You have the beach, gaming, Disney World and a wide range of budget and luxury accommodation options, and while any calamity in a destination tends to have an immediate decline in visitation to that destination, the decline is usually temporary.”
To his point, data from STR shows that hotel occupancy in Orlando the week of June 12 to 19, following the June 12 shooting, decreased by 19 percent compared with the same week in 2015, but then increased 7.4 percent in September compared with September 2015.
And in December 2016, the travel site Expedia.com had a 12 percent increase in package bookings to Orlando compared with December 2015. The jump was even bigger in Miami, with a 24 percent increase in package bookings over the same period.
The next several months also show promise for Florida’s travel industry.
For one, Zika in Miami is far less of a threat than it was last summer, said Dr. Stephen Morse, an epidemiology professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “There haven’t been any new Zika cases reported in the city recently,” he said, “and it’s a pretty limited virus at this point with the chances of transmission being low.”
And, on some travel sites, bookings for Florida trips are on the rise.
Greg Guiteras, the chief executive of whatahotel.com of Coral Gables, Fla., an online travel site specializing in luxury trips, said that trip bookings through the end of March, especially to Orlando, are strong.
“Hotel rates are the same and even higher than they were pre-Zika and also before the Orlando nightclub shooting, and it continues to be a robust market for us,” he said. The site has more than 500 reservations for trips to Florida between January and March, he said, with the average trip costing about $2,000.
On Booking.com, which claims to be the world’s largest hotel booking site, bookings to Florida for the second half of 2016 were up compared with the second half of 2015, according to Leslie Cafferty, a spokeswoman for the site, which is based in Amsterdam.
Also, the online travel agency Skylark.com has had several hundred queries in the last two months for vacations to Florida as well as many confirmed trips for the next several months, said Paul Tumpowsky, the company’s chief executive.
“Travelers generally seem more relaxed about Zika, and the popular parts of Florida like Orlando and Miami are very accessible flight-wise from many cities, both around the U.S. and globally,” he said, “so it’s no surprise that travelers want to visit.”
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