Florida travel-industry leaders expect the surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the delta variant to cause only a brief slowdown in the state’s tourism rebound, as they seek more federal money to lure families and winter visitors.
Meeting Wednesday at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, the Visit Florida Board of Directors approved plans for the state’s tourism-marketing arm to apply for a $14.8 million federal grant to help the state try to attract travelers from other parts of the U.S. That money is tied to $3 billion in grants made available in July through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.
“These funds are not yet received. Actually, we haven't even applied for them yet,” Visit Florida President Dana Young told board members. “We feel confident, because this money has already been allocated, that we will receive them.”
The goal is to maintain the pace of recovery that the leisure and hospitality industry has seen this year after COVID-19 caused massive economic damage in 2020, when the state ended 10 years of steadily increasing tourism numbers.
The marketing agency estimated travel into Florida, driven by tourists from other states, was 223.4 percent higher in the second quarter of 2021 than during the same three-month period in 2020. Young prefers to focus on domestic travel from April 1 through June 30. Those numbers were 6 percent higher than in the same period of 2019, the final year of growth.
The state attracted 31.7 million domestic and international visitors during the second quarter of 2021, an overall 2.2 percent below where the state was in 2019.
Concerns have been raised as Florida is a hot spot for COVID-19 because of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Since the second half of July, Florida has recorded more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.
Jacob Pewitt Yancey, Visit Florida’s director of consumer insights and analytics, said recent surveys have shown only a slight indication of people altering travel plans made for the next six months.
“Yes, people are concerned about the delta variant. Yes, that is having an impact in the short term on people's travel plans. But people in general, travelers seem to be very confident that this is just a temporary bump in the road,” Pewitt Yancey said. “Once you start to look out to a more medium length time horizon, people seem to believe that either the situation will pass, or they will travel anyway, even if it hasn't passed.”
Not everyone agrees.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association, continuing to push Congress for assistance for the industry, issued the results of a survey on Tuesday that said U.S. leisure travelers are scaling back travel plans as COVID-19 cases increase nationally.
“With COVID-19 cases rising and travel concerns mounting as we enter the fall and winter months, the hotel industry is at a pivotal point,” association President and CEO Chip Rogers said in a prepared statement. “Unless Congress acts, pandemic-related travel reductions will continue to threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of hotel workers.”
Visit Florida spent $19.2 million on its “rebound” campaign, while waiting for the reopening of international markets.
Part of the upcoming marketing includes $1.25 million for digital ads aimed at international markets and $3 million for advertising campaigns in Canada and Latin America.
Visit Florida received $50 million from the state for marketing in the current fiscal year, the same as in fiscal year 2020-2021. An additional $25 million is coming through the American Rescue Plan Act and other federal stimulus.
JetBlue Travel Products President Andres Barry, the chairman of Visit Florida’s Marketing Council, said the agency has done “fantastic work” in putting out the messages to travelers.
“I think in these meetings we get a bit of a snippet, and just having looked at the data a little bit more in depth, and for a longer period of time, Florida's winning the tourism recovery,” Barry said.
“There's a lot of things beyond our control that are contributing to that, but I do want to reassure everybody … it is translating into results,” Barry continued.
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