Is Tourism Down in Central Florida This Summer?
A few recent reports suggest a worrisome trend for Central Florida, one with serious financial ramifications.
The feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company may have caused some collateral damage.
Signs suggest that Central Florida tourism has dropped this summer.
What’s happening, what does it mean, and why does it matter? Let’s discuss it all.
Central Florida Tourism Drags
Throughout 2022, the media clung to a buzzword that I honestly hated.
Someone coined the phrase “Revenge Travel,” and publications decided to run with it.
In reality, we weren’t experiencing any sort of revenge. Instead, it was more accurately described as Cabin Fever Travel.
Throughout the pandemic, guests largely remained at home unless they were essential workers. And that group definitely needed a break, too.
Societal interactions required distances and face-coverings. It was a strange time.
The instant the world got better, people couldn’t wait to rush out of their homes to travel.
Not coincidentally, the tourism numbers for 2022 and early 2023 demonstrated strong industry-wide recovery.
During the first three months of 2023, Florida claimed record tourism levels with 37.9 million visitors.
Now, some recent Osceola County, Florida, data suggests a slowdown is happening this summer.
Why does this matter? It’s basically the same problem Jennifer Lawrence’s character faces in the new movie, No Hard Feelings.
In the story, Lawrence’s character cannot pay for her home unless she makes enough money while the out-of-towners are visiting her area.
Many in the Florida tourism industry similarly gain a disproportionate amount of their annual revenue during the summer vacation season.
This year, businesses that rely on such travel are expressing fears that they won’t earn enough to survive all year.
The data backs up this fear. During a recent meeting of the Tourist Development Council, projections showed an expected 11 percent decrease in tax revenue.
The forecast calls for that 11 percent drop each month this summer, which suggests a steady, consistent downturn in tourism.
What Does This Downturn Mean?
As a reminder, Osceola County contains part of the Reedy Creek district. So, this drop in out-of-towners impacts Disney businesses as well.
However, we all know that Disney will be fine. If the company feared lower attendance, it’d offer cut-rate discounts on all its theme park offerings.
Instead, Disney has operated with a business-as-usual attitude thus far this summer. Meanwhile, the crowds have noticeably increased lately.
The primary concern here involves the cottage industries that exist solely because Walt Disney purchased swamp land in this region in the 1960s.
Many of these places had already suffered mightily due to the pandemic.
Another whammy like this could force the closure of even more tourism-related businesses.
How much that thought matters to you depends entirely on your empathy levels, but it’s also reflective of something else.
The local tax system relies on tourism to pay for its services and employees.
One of the state officials summarized the matter this way:
“What we’re seeing is a potential slight softening through the summer months.”
The concern here is that the one saying it is the Director of the Osceola Office of Management and Budget.
If that person is worried, everyone in Osceola County, especially business owners, should feel similarly stressed.
Obviously, this downturn requires some projection, though. Summer is technically only three days old as I type this.
Most people use Memorial Day Weekend as the unofficial start to the summer tourist season, though.
So, we’ve got nearly a month of data suggesting a tourism slowdown.
The situation could improve, but we’re not tracking anything that would suggest that.
Instead, tourists seem to be consciously avoiding Central Florida, which naturally leads to speculation as to why.
What Has Caused the Downturn?
DeSantis is currently running for President of the United States.
While polling suggests that he’s not faring well, Florida’s governor has provided a specific message since before he announced he was running.
The DeSantis slogan is “Make America Florida,” which would sound great if he meant that everywhere would become the Most Magical Place on Earth.
I’d love to live in a country where exceptional themed attractions are plentiful. Wouldn’t you?
Of course, that’s not even a little bit what DeSantis’s slogan indicates.
Instead, the idea references the governor’s orchestrated method of embracing staunch conservative ideas of now.
Specifically, DeSantis’s policies have demonstrated what he personally has called “anti-Woke philosophies.”
To the governor, no organization is more Woke than Disney. So, he has, quite remarkably, picked a fight with Mickey Mouse.
Whether you believe this or not, the governor’s actions have indisputably caused some to question whether they want to vacation in Florida right now.
Conversely, some of his supporters have taken the governor’s side against Disney. So, they don’t want to vacation in Florida right now, either.
The end result of these two seemingly conflicting ideologies leads to the same outcome.
Revenge Travel has ended, people are no longer desperate to travel, and Florida’s governor has given two disparate reasons not to want to visit the state.
We don’t know yet whether this downturn impacts other tourism destinations or not. Realistically, we probably won’t learn for sure until well into 2024.
With DeSantis running for President, his people have plenty of reason to bury data like this. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised this one became public.
Why Does This Tourism Drop Matter?
Again, if you’re not the empathetic type – and nobody’s judging here – it doesn’t matter to you that tourism has declined.
The topic is most vital to those directly impacted. To a lesser degree, it also matters to those who have chosen sides in the Florida Feud.
Fans of Disney can point to what’s happening and claim that the governor’s policies have quantifiably hurt Central Florida.
Meanwhile, the anti-Disney crowd can claim that tourism must have dropped due to protests against the Mouse’s Woke policies.
You may have noticed that I virtually never use the term “Woke” in my writing because I recognize its divisive – and fairly pointless – nature.
I’m only doing so today since that’s the DeSantis platform he’s using for his Presidential campaign.
The underlying truth here is that DeSantis has targeted Disney as a means to an end, and that end is the Presidency.
In the interim, the Central Florida tourism industry could suffer collateral damage.
Alternatively, the primary cause for the current downturn could be as simple as a large number of tourists scratching their travel itch last year.
For the moment, the causation is speculation, but the taxation and revenue shortfalls are all too real. And the story bears watching.
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Feature Photo: Disney