While the COVID-19 pandemic discourages much smaller gatherings almost everywhere, the Orange County Convention Center is gearing back up, with several multi-thousand person events just last weekend.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Convention Center Executive Director Mark Tester announced the recent buoyed business Monday as news that counters some bad economic news from Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond about January’s tourist development tax receipts.
Orange County’s January tourist development tax revenue fell sharply from December, the first monthly decline seen since the whole tourism business collapsed almost to zero last April. That January sag, Diamond said, was due in part to the fact that December and January saw a deadly surge in COVID-19 nationally, in Florida, and in Orange County.
Yet convention and meeting business has begun picking up more recently. That got national attention two weeks ago with the CPAC convention, featuring former President Donald Trump, though that was held at the Orlando Hilton Convention Center, not the Orange County Convention Center.
Still, thousands of people are showing up at the county’s center now, particularly for athletic events, Tester said.
“We did actually have our business’ best post-pandemic weekend this past weekend at the convention center,” Tester said. “We had four events running concurrently… We had the Orlando Boat Show, which was a local event in the west building, We also had an AAU Volleyball Classic, which had about 9,000 people in attendance, as well as a cheerleading event called the All Star Challenge, which had about 2,000 people. And the Sunshine Volleyball Classic had about 16,000.”
A number of similar meetings and events are set for coming weeks. Looking further out, there is almost no drop-off from normal scheduling in the summer and autumn months, Tester said.
“I’m happy to say that over time we’ve been able to host events here in our convention center without any known outbreaks associated with those events,” Demings said. “So we know how to do it and we know how to do it safely.”
Otherwise, Orange County’s tourism business remains in deep depression, at least into January, according to the numbers Diamond presented.
The county collected $7.6 million in tourist development tax for January. That’s down 70% from Jan., 2020, and down from December. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020, the county routinely collected $25 to $30 million each month in tourist taxes. Collections have been well below half those numbers ever since.
“Unfortunately, that is the first month-over-month decline that we have had in TDT collections since we hit rock bottom in April,” Diamond said. “In short, TDT collections are still at historic low levels.”