Each year, tens of millions of people arrive from all over the world to visit Orlando, FL. The twin titans of Disney World and Universal Studios entice folks to flock to Central Florida. But this year, of course, is very different.
Tourism in the Orlando region, America’s top tourism and vacation spot, ground to a standstill for several months because of COVID-19. Disney World is now targeting to open in early July, and other area attractions will follow the leader.
With area theme parks closed and dozens of conventions canceled, hotel bookings dwindled. The economic trickle down was immediate and severe.
“The biggest Impact I see when it comes to the tourism and economy is unemployment,” says Joe Johnson, president of the Osceola County Association of Realtors. Employment here “is all driven by tourism, so when the shutdown started happening probably within two weeks or so, all those employees were furloughed. So you’ve got thousands upon thousands of people losing their jobs instantaneously,” he says.
The loss of jobs portends far-reaching economic impacts on the Orlando area, including the real estate market. Until the coronavirus pandemic, it was one of the fastest-growing metros in the U.S., a southeastern bellwether for housing. Then, as in most parts of the country, home sales fell off a cliff. Now experts are wondering: How quickly will the housing market come back—and what will the new normal look like?
Orlando by the numbers
According to Visit Orlando, more than 463,000 area jobs are directly or indirectly related to tourism.
The Orlando Economic Partnership reports, for the week of June 1, the area’s unemployment rate was at 16.2%, which is higher than the national average and tops any numbers seen during the 2008 recession.
In a May 2019 report, Visit Orlando said the area was the No. 1 travel destination in the United States, with over 75 million annual visitors. What do the numbers look like so far this year? These are the starters:
- Hotel occupancy fell to 12.5% in April, down from 85% in April 2019.
- 21 conventions with an estimated economic impact of $425.7 million have rescheduled for later in 2020 or for 2021.
The Orlando International Airport is usually the busiest in the state: 47.7 million passengers traveled through it in 2018. According to the airport, air traffic saw a 47% drop in March 2020, the most recent statistics available. Theme parks and attractions were open for a few weeks during that month, so the big drop doesn’t show the full extent of the crater.
Rod Johnson, assistant director of public affairs at the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said air traffic at the airport fell even further in April and May, but official numbers run about 60 days behind.
He says he expects to see a rebound soon as theme parks and…