It’s been over a year since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida.
The effects of the global health crisis have been sweeping across Florida, the nation, and the world. Now, we’re taking a look at just how COVID-19 has impacted the Florida tourism industry — and how those impacts might affect your Disney World trip.
Tourism is one of the industries that has been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Between the limits on crowds and capacity due to social distancing requirements, limitations on travel, and some level of dip in demand due to health concerns, the travel industry ground nearly to a halt in 2020. Now, as it slowly gets moving once more, we’re getting more of an idea of how long-lasting COVID’s effects are on the travel industry.
According to WESH, the economic impact of the pandemic on tourism could stretch across years, even as the vaccine rollout continues. To put it in perspective for Florida, NPR notes, “Just two years ago, visitors from the U.S. and overseas contributed more than $90 billion to Florida’s economy.” In August of 2020, NPR shared that “visitors from overseas [had] declined by 91% compared with last year. Even visits by Canadian residents, a mainstay of Florida’s tourist economy, fell by 99%.”
With tourism accounting for so much of the economy in Florida, the return of tourism has been awaited by many industry players in the state. Now, Visit Florida has compiled data on how COVID has impacted tourism and what things look like right now.
Florida Saw a 34% DROP in Visitors in 2020
As we shared not too long ago, Florida saw a 34% drop in visitors in 2020 when compared to the previous year. The state only saw 86.714 million visitors in 2020, which is the lowest number of visitors they’ve had in a year since 2010. And many of them came at the end of the year. About 20.625 million of those travelers came to Florida in the 4th quarter.
Tourism numbers had been steadily growing in Florida from 2009 to 2019, with the state getting more than 100 million visitors each year since 2015. Where does that leave us now though?
What’s Tourism Looking Like Now?
Hotel Demand and Revenue Are Still Down.
Visit Florida notes that hotel demand is down in a year-over-year change comparison. At the start of the pandemic last April, hotel demand was down 78% as compared to the previous year, and it remains down about 27% (as of February 21st) in comparison to the same time last year. Demand has seen a marked return compared to where things were last year during the peak pandemic time, but it’s still lower than demand was last year at this time.
With lower demand comes lower revenue. Visit Florida found that hotel revenue in the state bottomed out between March and May of last year, making $416 million less than the same time in 2019. With demand increasing, revenue is going up. But, hotel revenue is still coming in at $195 million less for the most recent weekly figures when compared to the previous year around this time.
One statistic is looking better as compared to last year, however. New vacation rental bookings in Florida bottomed out at -89% in April of 2020 (as compared to the previous year) and is now at much better levels. Most recently, the new vacation rental bookings were up 24% when compared to the same time last year.
The current vaccine rollout and other factors may account for travelers feeling more safe traveling or willing to be more optimistic with their vacation plans.
Travel Interest Collapsed But is Starting to Return.
As you can imagine, the drop in hotel demand is indicative of a decline in the interest to travel all around. As you can see from the chart below from Visit Florida, which sites a tracking study from Longwoods International, in April of last year, 61% of respondents said they were planning to travel in the next six months. That has recently risen up to 81%.
Much like the rental statistic, this indicates some optimism with traveling environments. One Visit Florida data point that illustrates this is that certain daily car travel into Florida was 83% LESS in March of 2020 than it was on the average day in February of 2020. This statistic still varies greatly based on the time period being looked at.
Most recently, about 20% fewer cars entered Florida for the period starting March 1st, 2021 as compared to the average day in February 2020, but about 55% MORE cars entered Florida for another period starting on February 22nd, 2021 (as compared to the average day in February of 2020). So it really can vary depending on what period of time you’re examining. Overall though, it appears demand may be improving.
Interest in Other Vacation Activities Varies.
Visit Florida also cited data from The Harris Poll’s recurring survey on COVID-19. The results note the time respondents say that they will need to wait between the end of the pandemic and the return to doing activities. In wave 53, about 2,000 U.S. adults were surveyed.
As of Feb 26-28th, data showed that 25% of people surveyed were willing to immediately go out to dinner following the pandemic end. About 17% were willing to immediately stay in a hotel following the pandemic end.
But, only 12% were willing to immediately go on a plane following the end of the pandemic, and only 10% were willing to immediately take a cruise. But, 24% of respondents said they would wait 1 year or more to fly on a plane. And 18% said they’d wait 1 year or more to stay in a hotel following the pandemic’s end. There’s also a notable amount of people who stated they’d NEVER fly on a plane, stay in a hotel, or take a cruise again following the end of the pandemic.
So, while some people might feel comfortable doing things immediately after the pandemic “ends,” some may not feel comfortable doing those things again for a long time — or ever again.
What Does This Mean for Your Disney Trip?
So, what do these lower numbers in terms of hotel demand and revenues, in particular, mean for your trip to Walt Disney World?
Well, it’s possible that we may continue to spot some pretty good Disney deals in the coming months as demand slowly moves back to normal.
In past recessions, Disney put out hefty discounts and promotions in an effort to drive hotel bookings and theme park attendance. If the company feels like these things are needed once again to bring in more guests, more discounts and deals could appear.
We’ve already seen quite a few discounts and deals announced for this year, including some significant hotel and ticket discounts. There’s even a deal where you can get 2 days of FREE park tickets. There are also some Memory Maker deals that have been announced too (and are expiring soon)! Will more deals with potentially bigger savings or perks be announced in the future? It’s possible! We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for news of any big promotions.
Disney may also seek to drive demand with additional perks for its guests, particularly Disney hotel guests. We’ve already seen a new perk announced this year — Early Theme Park Entry. With Early Theme Park Entry, Disney World Resort hotel guests will be able to get 30-minute early entry to any theme park on any day.
We’re not sure when this early entry system will begin, but it was announced as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations (Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year). So, we’ll be keeping an eye out for more updates about that.
Also, until efforts to drive demand are successful, the theme parks are able to reach higher capacities, or demand increases in other ways — we may not see all of the Disney World hotels reopen. Several Disney World hotels are open right now, and some are set to reopen soon including Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
But, other Disney World hotels still do not have reopening dates yet. We expect that some of those hotels could remain closed for a while longer if the tourist demand simply isn’t there. So, bear in mind that while some of the hotels might have great discounts or deals for you to take advantage of, your favorite resort might still be closed for a while.
While we could get bigger and better deals to try to drive demand, if those deals don’t appear to work or if Disney feels they will not work as demand is still limited — that could mean that park ticket deals might remain the status quo for a while. Take, for instance, the Florida Resident Discover Ticket offer that has been offered, in some form with some differences, for a while.
On top of potentially keeping some deals consistent, Disney could potentially also hold off on a price ticket increase for a little while. Right before the park closures, a price increase in Annual Passes took place. We’ve come up on the timeframe when we typically expect Disney to increase regular ticket prices. But, with the park closures, that increase never came and it still hasn’t.
Now, Disney HAS reworked their ticket pricing calendar to make many days slightly more expensive in 2022, but the actual range in terms of ticket prices remains the same. While travel demand is still on the lower end and improving, ticket prices could remain the same. But, as travel demand returns, we may see Disney inch back to the typical model of deals and price increases. Annual Passes may also eventually be sold again as demand increases.
Willingness to Return to Certain Activities.
Many of these activities discussed in the Harris Poll — about when people would feel comfortable doing certain activities again after the pandemic end — are the type of activities you would do on a Disney trip or to get to a Disney trip — fly on a plane, eat at a restaurant, etc. These responses could be a good predictor of demand, which might give us an idea of what will return first in Disney World.
Considering that 25% of those surveyed in the recent poll said they’d feel comfortable going out to dinner immediately after the pandemic ends, we may see Disney World restaurants continue to reopen or potentially increase capacity if demand follows this trend.
Disney will also continue to work to fill their existing reopened hotels and demand will likely play a big role in determining when currently closed hotels may reopen. 17% of respondents in the recent Harris Poll said they’d feel comfortable visiting a hotel immediately following the pandemic end. Only time will tell how that translates to actual present or future demand.
The Harris Poll did show, however, that only 12% of respondents in the recent poll would feel comfortable flying on a plane immediately after the pandemic end. That may show a sense of hesitancy that exists among lots of travelers. This may mean that when you fly, you’ll continue to find airlines communicating their safety practices in order to bring passengers aboard. Beyond that, deals and cancellation offers may remain in effect depending on your airline as well.
Finally, you’ll note that many respondents in the Harris Poll were wary of cruise travel. In fact, in the last batch, 16% of respondents said they’d never again go on a cruise. That won’t necessarily impact your Disney World vacation but it is worth noting. Disney has said that cruising will be the last arm of the Company to return, and it may change quite a bit depending on the levels of demand and comfort amongst tourists. So if you’ve been eyeing that Disney Cruise, you might be waiting a bit to get the opportunity once again.
As you can see, the global health crisis has had a massive impact on Florida tourism. Some numbers are up in comparison to where they were previously, but it seems that there’s still a ways to go. There may also be significant changes in what tourists now feel comfortable with that will change demand and the tourism industry for a while.
It will be interesting to see what steps Florida takes in the future to encourage visitors to come and how Disney World rolls with the changes. As always, you can count on DFB for all the latest updates and analyses.
Click here to see everything you need to know about all of the restaurants opening in Disney World in 2021.
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Do you have a Disney trip coming up? Tell us in the comments!