2020 has been a tough year for Orlando. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many years of a tourist boom. We have already discussed the trouble at Walt Disney World. However, is the rest of Orlando suffering the same difficulties? Sadly, Orlando is in decline, but when will it recover?
Orlando is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. In 2018, 75 million visitors visited Orlando. International visitors made up 6.5 million of these visitors. International visitors spend longer on vacation in Orlando and are therefore valuable guests. As we come towards the end of 2020, most international travel to the United States continues to be restricted. However, interstate visitors are also down, and traffic at Orlando International Airport was down 73% in July compared to 2019. These figures suggest Orlando is in decline, but surely it will recover soon?
Tourism downturns have hit Orlando previously. Following the September 11 attacks, attendance at parks was down for several years, including an initial 30% drop in international tourists. It wasn’t until 2005 attendance at the Magic Kingdom fully recovered. Similar to previous downturns, major construction projects have been canceled or delayed in parks. Construction on the world’s most anticipated new park Universal Orlando Resort’s Epic Universe is paused for the foreseeable future. While there have been downturns before, Orlando has never suffered a decline like 2020.
It is essential for the Orlando recovery that current guests have a great experience. On reopening, satisfaction was high, with guests visiting Universal Orlando. The reopening of Universal Orlando was highly praised by state officials. However, there have now been reports of larger crowds and less social distancing at the resort.
Despite increasing crowds, things are not back to normal at Universal Orlando. The Aventura and the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort temporarily closed in August after the initial reopening period. Currently, only 4 of Universal’s hotels are open. Volcano Bay will close on November 2 for the winter. It isn’t unusual for water parks to close for maintenance in the winter, but this is the first time it has happened at Volcano Bay. Sadly these reductions in services are also hitting employees with further resort layoffs just announced. Perhaps the opening of the new Jurassic VelociCoaster in summer 2021 will start the recovery at Universal Orlando?
Employee layoffs are not just at Universal Orlando. As this report shows, there have been massive layoffs throughout the Orlando tourism industry. The reductions of cast members at Walt Disney World have been well-publicized, but SeaWorld also has layoff 1900 staff.
SeaWorld has also had its problems. The park is only open 5 days a week, and guests regularly find significant parts of the park closed. Visiting the park isn’t cheap, and to find attractions such as Journey to Atlantis and Kraken closed is likely to be a major disappointment. However, SeaWorld does have both its water parks open. Both Aquatica and the exclusive Discovery Cove are open. However, Discovery Cove is only open for 4 days most weeks.
The Orange County Convention Centre is a key component of Orlando Tourism. It is the second-largest convention center in the United States and contributes $3 billion in economic impact to Central Florida. The continued closure is impacting businesses on I-Drive, which relies on conventions for business. A large number of conventions are scheduled for 2021, but many will rely on the return of interstate and international tourists.
Orlando is in decline, but it will recover. Orlando is too big an attraction not to recover. How quick it will recover will depend on the return of tourists, including international tourists. This recovery is likely to depend on the successful introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine. Also, the longer-term worldwide economic situation is likely to have an impact on a full recovery. In the meantime, Orlando needs to maintain a product that will attract tourists. Lack of social distancing, closed attractions, closed parks, and delayed construction will make guests less likely to return. Orlando might well be in decline, but how long it will take to recover remains unknown.