Florida’s vital tourism industry could start to experience an uptick midway through 2021, although foreign travel will continue to lag for several years, according to information posted online Tuesday by state analysts.
Short- and long-term outlooks from a panel known as the Florida Economic Estimating Conference indicate people, mostly from other states, could travel to Florida in close to pre-coronavirus pandemic numbers in 2022.
And with the state’s tourism-marketing arm Visit Florida reporting last Thursday a near 32 percent drop in visitors during the third quarter, and a 34 percent reduction so far this year, the latest state analyst projections aren’t far off from earlier forecasts.
In September, Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission a long-term outlook indicated a potentially quick recovery for all sectors of the economy outside of tourism, with the assumptions based on a vaccine for COVID-19 available by the July 1 start of the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
“We’ve always talked about tourism and the sensitivity of our economy to tourism as being an important concern and a potential downside risk, if anything were to happen,” Baker told lawmakers in September. “So, with the outbreak of coronavirus, we actually did see probably the worst that we will ever see happen, in terms of that downside risk materializing.”
At that time, state analysts wrote that Florida’s tourism-sensitive economy is particularly vulnerable to the longer-term effects of any pandemic and that several industry groups were predicting it may take at least two years to recover.
“Previous economic studies of disease outbreaks have shown that it can take as much as 12 to 15 months after the outbreak ends for tourism to return to pre-disease levels. The magnitude of this event is greater,” a report compiled in September for the Legislative Budget Commission said.
The September report came on the heels of Visit Florida posting a 60.5 percent drop in tourists during the second quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter of 2019.
“Current expectations are that leisure driving vacations will recover first, and then --- in order --- business travel, domestic air travel, and international travel,” the September report said. “The timing will be further influenced by the actual course of the disease and the recovery from the recession.”
The outlooks posted Tuesday indicate the state could be back to 30 million visitors a quarter by the third quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, overall visitor numbers would be just short of the fiscal year 2019 total by fiscal year 2022 and surpass record-setting 2019 by fiscal year 2023.
This year’s third-quarter tourism figures, which Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said last Thursday show “some signs of recovery,” primarily reflect people trekking to Florida from other parts of the country.
That isn’t expected to change for a couple of years.
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In the outlooks Tuesday, analysts projected overseas visitors could total about 3.7 million in the 2022 fiscal year, nearly one-third of the 10.9 million from the 2019 fiscal year.
Overseas travelers could reach 6.8 million in the 2023 fiscal year, reach 9 million the next year, but not reach 10 million until the 2028 fiscal year.
Canadians should return quicker. Accounting for nearly 3.6 million visitors in the 2019 fiscal year, the number has plummeted in the current year. However, the analysts’ outlook has Canadian visitors back to about 3 million by the 2023 fiscal year.
Visit Florida released its third quarter numbers after Universal Orlando advised the state Department of Economic Opportunity, Orlando and Orange County on Nov. 12 that it would continue to lay off 1,123 workers through the end of the year. The Universal advisories were posted online by the state this week.
Walt Disney had earlier informed the state of about 18,000 layoffs occurring at Florida properties starting in December.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.