Florida leisure travel is showing signs of decline in recent weeks, according to Peter Ricci, director of Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Hospitality and Tourism Management program in the school’s College of Business, offering yet another challenge to employers and tourism officials still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Domestic and foreign visitors are already discovering bargains and availability in various marketplaces after the Sunshine State’s tourism saw a significant bounce-back year in 2021, which often doesn’t happen until the historically sluggish months of August and September, according to Ricci.
According to data from the travel industry analyst STR for the week of June 5–11, 2022, just two of the top 25 U.S. markets—Miami and Tampa—saw post-occupancy reductions compared to the same time last year.
“Consumers are tightening their belts, and one of the first things they cut back on is vacations,” Ricci said. “But the other culprit is states and cities that essentially shut down during the pandemic are now wide open again and promoting heavily. Places such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are just now experiencing the incredible demand that Florida saw in summer 2020.”
Florida tourism in 2021 saw improved numbers across the board compared to pre-pandemic levels, welcoming nearly 120 million domestic visitors in 2021, the highest level of domestic visitation in state history. The increased tourism brought in local economy boosts, marking all-time high revenues for hotels and property rentals.
Florida’s hotels drew in the highest total hotel revenue ever recorded at over $17.3 billion dollars, while Florida’s airports accommodated an 80 percent increase in passengers. Despite last year’s success, fears of an oncoming recession are leading to a general tourism hesitance.
“While we entice leisure travelers back to the table, group travel, and other market segments can help get us through this difficult period,” Ricci said. “Florida has far more to offer in variety than many other visitor hot spots.”
Ricci expects Florida’s destination marketers will combat this latest downturn with additional outreach, short-term campaigns, and other creative methods to lure travelers back.
With over 1.1 million employees, the hospitality sector is Florida’s largest private employer. At the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic in spring 2020, estimates revealed that about half of those employees had their hours cut back or been laid off. Due to ongoing income deficits, labor shortages, and supply-chain concerns, Florida hotels, and restaurants are still suffering from the epidemic despite the positive year in 2021.