Florida tourism soared in the period from April to June.
In a mid-August report, Visit Florida was euphoric about the 223% growth in second quarter visitors compared to the second quarter of 2020, when the pandemic really took hold and travel ground to a halt.
Most vitally, domestic visitors hit 30.6 million this spring, not only a 216% rebound from the previous year, but a 6% improvement on the 2019 second quarter.
But since mid-July, Florida has made headlines for new cases of Covid-19 reported. In the first seven days of September, Florida had an average of 17,570 new cases a day, by some calculations outpacing even bigger states such as California and Texas.
So the question is: Will Florida continue to attract visitors into the fall as the new circumstances set in with the traveling public?
Travel advisors booking vacations to Florida are not panicking.
“We definitely have had some cancellations. And they have said it’s because of the rising numbers in Florida,” said Tammy Whiting, owner of Storybook Destinations, St. Leonard, Md.
But Whiting said rather than canceling outright, more clients are postponing. “People are hopeful that this is a short peak in numbers and that it will all even back out soon,” she said.
Many of her Florida bookings “are sticking in there,” Whiting said. “They’re confident in whatever safety measures the [theme] parks and the cruise lines have and are going to go ahead and go.”
Whiting’s agency primarily sells theme park vacations, and she said she’s selling more in Florida than in California, where the state shuttered parks for months after the 2020 outbreak. “People are a little reluctant to make bookings there until they know it’s not going to get canceled,” she said.
The waning weeks of summer can be a tricky time to sell Florida under normal circumstances, said Amy Uhl-Knittle, owner of the Travel Gallery in Sandusky, Ohio. In her part of the country, people tend to be focused on Labor Day holiday celebrations and back-to-school preparations more than travel plans. So, Florida bookings have slowed.
“It’s not so much because of the delta variant or Covid, it’s just right now it’s that time of year for us,” Uhl-Knittle said.
Some agents remain very positive on the outlook for Florida. “I really feel my winter travel, especially Thanksgiving thru Christmas and New Year’s, is steady. It’s really solid. And I don’t see any [plans] wavering, at all,” said Ann Newhouse, travel consultant at Heart of the Valley Travel in Appleton, Wis. “It’s really just a couple of the fall ones, but it’s really very minimal.”
Newhouse said one of her clients postponed a late-October trip to Orlando and rescheduled it for spring break 2022. But she said the reason for the postponement was that the client wanted to get the children vaccinated in the interim. “I feel like maybe if that wasn’t on the table they still would have gone [in October],” she said.
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With the added assurance of vaccination, Newhouse said illness is no longer the main factor holding people back from travel. “Six months ago [it was] more fear of getting the disease,” she said. “Now it is the uncertain rules. They would just like to know what it is.”
Newhouse said media reports and pressure from relatives also play a part. “It’s that external force,” she said, “not what people are really feeling inside.”