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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our hosts, veteran journalists from our partner public radio stations: WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami and WJCT’s Melissa Ross, broadcasting from Jacksonville.

Pandemic Expected To Take A Toll On Tourism Through 2021

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Denise Royal / WLRN
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Experts predict it will be a year until Florida’s beaches and other popular tourism sites are back to pre-pandemic levels.

Florida’s tourism industry is showing signs of recovery. But it’s not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels for another year.

COVID-19 has cost Florida billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs. The virus hit the state’s most significant industry — tourism — hard. According to a recent industry study, the recovery for the state’s crucial revenue-generating sector is at least a year away.

Next March, when state lawmakers finalize the budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, they will have about $33 billion in general revenue to spend; that’s down about $2 billion from pre-pandemic estimates.

On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross spoke with the state Legislature’s economist, Amy Baker, and Visit Florida CEO Dana Young.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

HUDSON: Back in August, you estimated a 10% drop in state revenues for this fiscal year that ends in July. How are things looking now?

AMY BAKER: It's been doing a little bit better than we expected in August.

There's a couple of reasons why that's occurring. I'm not sure at all. It signals a big change in our longer-term forecast as much as just some shifting that's going on right now.

HUDSON: Can you give us a sense of what some of those early shifts have been?

BAKER: We think a couple of things have happened. One, we were expecting, which is as soon as people in Florida felt safer this summer to leave their houses and to go back out shopping and ... going back to work and doing different things, there was some of what we call pent-up demand for a long period of time.

People didn't feel like they were able to make purchases as they normally would, or those services in particular just weren't available to them. Whether it's haircuts, going and having their nails done, or a variety of other services that normally are a big part of their lives during the worst of the pandemic. That wasn't true then.

A couple of things were induced by the fact that we have very low-interest rates right now. People that were in a place where they were able to purchase a new car, it became very attractive for them to do so because the interest rates were so low and the same thing with houses. We saw that again, for those that were able and had the means, those low-interest rates probably helped them make that decision, pushed them over the edge. So between the two things, a lot of pent-up demand was taking place over the summer. You wouldn't expect that to continue on. That was a one-time thing.

HUDSON: Where is the state revenue missing? What kinds of taxes are just not performing up to expectations for state tax purposes?

BAKER: The area that is still hurt the hardest, and we think will be hurt the longest, is in the tourism sector. Leisure and hospitality sector. So that is sales taxes and hotel taxes for our purposes.

ROSS: Overseas visitors to Florida have ticked down, as you said, quite a bit. The governor wants the federal government to ease coronavirus travel restrictions here from both Europe and Brazil. Do you anticipate that making any kind of impact on your numbers, should those restrictions be eased?

DANA YOUNG: Well, we certainly want international visitors to come to Florida, to come back to Florida, because they stay longer and spend about twice as much per person as a domestic visitor. So they're very important to our tourism economy. We can only go up from where we are now because our data shows that we've had about a 98, 99% decrease in international travel.

ROSS: What would you say to those who don't agree with this move by the governor? They just don't think it's safe to be encouraging international visitors to Florida. As you said, normally, they'd flock here at this time of year. But this has just been a year unlike any other.

YOUNG: Well, we have such an amazing slate of safe outdoor experiences here in Florida. And our marketing has been focused on those experiences. You know, people have different comfort levels, and they should do what they're comfortable with. But here in Florida, people can have a safe experience with their families, make wonderful memories, and enjoy this wonderful state that we are so fortunate to call home.

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