Experts warn Florida tourism recovery after COVID-19 will be ‘slower than 9/11’

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As the state reopens, it may be months before the tourism industry gets back on its feet.

Several experts, including a former Barack Obama administration official, warned that Florida’s tourism industry has a long road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic even as the hardest-hit parts of the state begin to reopen.

“It’ll be slower than 9/11,” said Stacy Ritter, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Let’s remember 9/11 was a one-day event and as tragic as it was, people wanted to get back to travel as a sign of patriotism. That’s not the case here. This is a completely different animal.”

Ritter and other experts were focused on South Florida during a Wednesday Zoom meeting with members of the region’s congressional delegation.

At times, however, their warnings applied to the rest of the state as travelers weigh whether Florida is safe to visit as it attempts to keep coronavirus infections down.

Andy Slavitt, a former Administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, said Florida’s tourism industry needs to decide between reopening now to help claw back lost profits or delaying its reopening to go all-in on a winter season comeback.

“We will not be able to have everything we want. This is about making choices and deciding what’s most important and making the best of bad options,” Slavitt argued.

“If we decide that having an ‘Open for Business’ sign in December and in January is most important, you can’t decide that on Nov. 15 and hope to get there. The good news is in August, I think you really can decide to get there, but you have to be willing to make some tradeoffs.”

Wednesday’s call was hosted by South Florida Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala and Frederica Wilson, all Democrats.

“People are not going to come here if they think they’re going to get sick,” Frankel warned.

Shalala echoed that sentiment, arguing that without consistently bringing down infection rates, “we cannot make the case that it’s safe to come down to South Florida.”

Those infection numbers have fallen in recent weeks, as have hospitalizations. Deaths have yet to drop as consistently, but data shows the virus is not spreading nearly as easily as it did in June after the last time the region tried to reopen. That false start simply led to another shutdown.

Ritter cited traveler sentiment surveys her group has reviewed weekly since the pandemic began, showing that failed reopening hurt tourists’ confidence.

“Optimism had been high in the first week of June,” she said, “and then it fell off a cliff again.”

Ritter said only 64% of those surveyed recently say they plan to travel in the next six months. “That’ll be devastating in our high season, which is winter,” she said.

“If we don’t get things back where they belong, where they need to be, then we will not see a recovery that we had anticipated back in June.”

Other parts of South Florida’s tri-county area have felt similarly grim effects this year.

“Room nights over the last six months have dropped by a million in Palm Beach County,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches. That’s a 37% drop from last year.

Rolando Aedo, COO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his county has seen an even sharper reduction.

“We’re 60% below where we were the same time last year,” Aedo said. “And that’s just on room nights. By the way, the rates are even further down.”

He echoed Ritter’s comparison with disasters past, saying COVID-19’s effect trumps them all.

“I’ve been with this organization 25 years-plus: Zika, oil spills, multiple hurricanes, 2008. This is unprecedented,” Aedo argued. “This is a lot of that wrapped into one, so the recovery time is going to be significantly longer.”

Wednesday’s participants said South Florida needs more help, including additional funding, to get back on track.

Slavitt, though, warned of pushing to reopen too quickly. He argued the region might be better off punting the next month or two to ensure infection rates remain low to instill confidence in travelers the region is safe.

“That’s only a decision that you guys can make, but if you make it collectively, you’ve got a better shot.”

Pat Geraghty, CEO of Florida Blue, echoed concerns by other participants Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is changing its guidelines to recommend some people without symptoms need not be tested, even if they’ve interacted with someone who contracted the virus.

“We’ve all been relying on the CDC. But I’m scratching my head about this recommendation about not testing folks who have been exposed but don’t show symptoms,” Geraghty said.

“I just can’t think that that’s going to get our arms around this issue. And it winds up pushing us to look at hospitalizations and deaths as the data that we can rely on as opposed to testing and positive test results. And that isn’t the place we should be. We should have leading indicators.”

Mucarsel-Powell also argued reduced testing is the exact opposite approach officials should be taking.

“We need to use testing and contact tracing as an economic tool to allow for containing the spread and also for safe reopening,” she said.

That leaves the burden on local and state leaders to figure out the best path forward. Slavitt recommended business leaders, such as those on Wednesday’s call, be joined in those efforts.

Hastings said he would work on calling a meeting of the Florida congressional delegation on the issue once the House begins meeting again in September.

“We need follow-up,” Hastings said.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


One comment

  • Margan ustin

    August 26, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    Yes.this article is RIGHT FROM FLORIDA POLITICS.
    only data more reliable over a month is just HOSPITALIZATIONS AND DEATHS.
    AND TRUMPS AND DE SANTIS..”NEW ANNOUNCED BY DE SANTIS HIMSELF 4 WEEKS AGO…METRIC OF TOTAL DAILY ER POSITIVE…DIAGNOSIS..ONLY ONLY.

    HE THEN STOPPED COMPLETELY COUNTING daily many thousands cases..POSITIVE CASES TESTED WITH SEVERE VIRUS SYMPTOMS SENT away went home WHO MANY DIED THERE FROM
    VIRUS..NOT COUNTED…WAITING FOR 2 WEEKS DELAY for results to come.meantime infecting families and others.

    TRUMP AND DE SANTIS IN ORDER TO AVOID ONGOING RECORD HIGH VIRUS DEATHSLOWING THEY ONLY COUNT FROM HOSPITALS CAUSED THUS AND STILL AT HOME NOT COUNTED VIRUS DEATHS BY…

    A MONTH AGO BOTH CANCELLED FUNDING TO PRIVATE TESTING LABS RETURNING HUGE NUMBERS TESTS IN 1 TO 3 DAYS DELIBERATELY TO USE ONLY FEW OVERWHELMED LABS OVERLOADED TAKE 2 OR MORE WEEKS FOR MANY MANY THOUSANDS SICK WAITING AT HOME..who MAJORITY DIED WAITING NOT COUNTED AS VIRUS DEATHS…EVEN THO MEDICAL EXAMINERS IN FLA AND NATIONWIDE REPORTED WERE VIRUS CAUSED..BUT MONTHS AGO TRUMP AND DE SANTIS BOTH ORDERED MEDICAL EXAMINERS NOT PUBLICLY REPORT DEATHS AND REASONS ANYMORE AFTER DECADES DOING THIS TRUTH FOR THE PUBLIC.

    THIS TRUMP AND DE SANTIS SETUP LET MILLIONS CASES NO LONGER REPORTED AND HIDDEN AND IT ALLOWED BOTH IN FLA AND NATION TO FALSIFY AND HIDE HUGE DAILY VIRUS DEATHS BY ELIMINATING HOSPITALIZATIONS AS NO RESULTS YET AS NEW RULES THEY PUT UP A MONTH AGO DE SANTIS SAID ON TV..ONLY COUNTS FROM THEN ON ER..DIAGNOSIS AND HOSPITALIZATIONS DEATHS! !

    THIS IS OBVIOUS DEATHS AND CASES IN TRUTH ARE AT RECORD HIGHS ACTUALLY WORSE EVERY WEEK FOR 7 HORRIFIC WEEKS ONGOING WORSE.

    EVEN WITH NEW MANIPULATED DATA TODAY BOTH TRUMP AND DE SANTIS SEE STILL WAY TOO HIGH CASES AND DEATHS AS BOTH STILL HORRIBLE.
    SO NOW TRUMP ORDERS CDC WITHOUT DRASTIC FAUCI TO SAY SLOW TESTING!!
    SO SEVERELY SICK DIE AT HOME CANT GET TESTED.ARENT COUNTED AS VIRUS DEATHS IN AMERICA OR FLA.

    SO NOW TRUMP ORDERS CDC AND ALL STATES WITHOUT DR
    FAUCI TELLING TRUTH AS ABSENT.ORDERS CDC GUIDELINES CHANGE TO IF IN CONTACT WITH EXPOSED PERSON NO LONGER CAN GET TESTED!!

    SO WILL NOT DIE AT HOME EVEN MORE NOW..DEATHS NOT COUNTED AS NOT HOSPITAL PER TRUMPS DEADLY RULE.

    SO NOW TODAY ORDERED CDC PUPPETS DO CHANGED GUIDELINES SAYING IF NO SYMPTOMS CANT GET TESTED. EXPOSING 40 PERCENT CARRIERS TO INFECT MANY MONTHS HUGE MILLIONS ACROSS AMERICA WHO WILL THEN MAJORITY DIE AT HOME WAITING FOR DELIBERATE TOO
    LATE TEST RESULTS TRUMP SET UP BY CANCELLING FUNDING FOR LABS DID 1 TO 3 DAYS RESULTS SO COULD GO HOSPITAL BEFORE. FOR LAST MONTH COULDN’T BECAUSE OF TRUMP EVIL NEW SETUPS FOR VIRUS.

    SO HE AND DE SANTIS CAN SAY DECLINING WHEN OUT OF CONTROL DEATH AS WE ALL KNOW LIVING IT WHILE THEY GET DAILY TESTS AND BEST TREATMENT THEMSELVES.

    THIS LATEST TO SKEW HORRIFIC DEATHS AD CASES AS BAD AS WORSE DAY AND RISING IS MASS MURDER.CRIMINAL FRAUDULENT MANIPULATION OF ACTUAL DATA AMERICANS HAVE RIGHT TO KNOW.

    TRUMP AND DE SANTIS TO DO THESE ONGOING AND NOW MORE DEADLY RULES SHOWS NEITHER HAS ANY MORAL CONSCIENCE, OR DECENCY.OR ARE AT ALL WHAT THESE MANIPULATIONS ARE CAUSING WIDER SPREAD DEATH AND SUFFERING NOW ACROSS AMERICA TO BE DEADLY 4 MONTHS MORE TIL BIDEN STOPS IT.BECAUSE EVERY NEW TRICK TRUMP AND DE SANTIS ORDERS GOES AGAINST EVERY SINGLE THING CDC AND OTHER COUNTRIES WHO STOPPED VIRUS TOLD TRUMP IN MARCH.

    THAT CDC NOW DOING THIS TO KILL MORE cruelly FOR MANY MORE MONTHS SHOWS HOW CORRUPT AND CONTROLLED BY TRUMPS POLITICAL SELFISHNESS THEY ARE AND HE HAS NO ON CONSCIENCE.AND TO IMPLY DR FAUCI AGREED WHEN HE DID NOT WOULD NOT AS CREATES MORE UT OF CONTROL DEATHS,AS HE SAID TODAY.LIED HE NEVER AGREED IN DEADLY CDC CHANGES.

    PEOPLE NOTICE CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR AND OTHER DEMOCRATS ARE CARING SAY THIS IS OPPOSITE OF SLOWING VIRUS.WONT DO IT.
    NOTICE PELOSI BILL OVER 2 MONTHS AGO TRUMP AND HIS SENATE REFUSED SIGN.IT GAVE 1200 AAINPEOPLE.IT CONTINUED 600 WEEK TO PEOPLE.IT SAVED POST OF CONTROL SO WE COULDVOTE.INSTEAD TRUMY OFFERED 300 WE FROM HIM ONLY IF STATES PD 100.AND IT REQUIRES HUGE DELAYING PAPERWORK IMPOSSIBLE TO GET.AND NO STIMULUS CHECK DEMOCRATS FIGHTING HIM 2 MONTHS TO GET FOR US.

    CHOICE IS CONTINUING YRS MORE OF INCREASING DEAD UNDER TRUMP OR BIDEN WHO SPENT BILLIONS SAVE US ALREADY FROM 2 PANDEMICS.
    THAT’S ALL MATTERS NOW,STAYING ALIVE.PERIOD.IMPOSSIBLE UNDER TRUMP EVEN NOW ORDERING ACTS TAT WILL FAST SPREAD VIRUS MORE…SO DEATHS AD CASES TRUE NUMBERS CAN BE HIDDEN SO HE CAN BE A FAKE DEADLY UNCARING LYING PRESIDENT AGAIN.AND WORSE EXCUSE IF HE’S BACK HE WONT BOTHER LIE ANYMORE OR USE OPTIONS FOR VACCINES. OTHER COUNTRIES HUGE VACCINE ORDERS.TRUMP LOW ORDER.EXPENSIVE OPTIONS HE WILL NEVER EXERCISE
    FOR AMERICA.WONT SPEND FRACTION OF VACCINE COST NOW FOR STIMULUS 1200 AGAIN AND 600 WEEK HE SURE WON’T SPEND MANY BILLIONS FOR VACCINE.

    EVERYTHING HE’S SAYING WILL DO IF ELECTED TO HELP WHY IN HELL ISNT HE DOING IT NOW…INSTEAD OF CUTTING HELP..REFUSING HIM LET SENATE PASS DEMOCRATIC NEEDED HELP..AND INSTEAD IS HE LOWERING TESTS WE DIE AT HOME ARENT EVEN ANYMORE OVER MONTH COUNTED DEAD ANYMORE.
    BECAUSE HE’S SETTING IT UP SO NO MATTER IF OVER HALF OF AMERICA DIES NOW CHANGED NEW RULES AT 150 MILLION BY JANUARY WHEN HE’S GONE HE DOESNT CARE IS DOING THESE NEW DEADLY MURDERING ACTIONS NOW …JUST TO GET A …CHANCE…OF ELECTED SO HE CAN CONTINUE DOING NOTHING!!!

    THATS A SATANIC CRIMINAL TRADEOFF OF HIS FOR MURDERING MILLIONS OF AMERICANS BY JANUARY UNNECESSARILY FOR HIS PERSONAL FAKE PRESIDENT TITLE BACK.GOD HELP US ALL SEE THROUGH THESE LATEST DEADLY TACTICS TO FAKE LOWERE NUMBERS.WHEN WE ARE THE VICTIMS OF A SATANIC LIAR.GOD HELP BIDEN GET US OUT OF THIS TRAP OF TERROR.HE’S OUR ONLY HOPE EVER

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