Even in pandemic, Orlando tourism starts new year strong

Orlando, USA - May 8, 2018: The panorama of Universal City Walk near the entrance of the Universal Studios theme park
Domestic seat capacity for Jan/Feb 2022 is currently anticipated to surpass 2019 levels.

Orlando’s tourism industry is off to a good start in 2022 although the pandemic remains a threat to one of the world’s biggest travel destinations, several community leaders said.

“While our indicators for the first two months of 2022 show a positive start to the year for Orlando, we remain cautious due to the recent increase in the Omicron variant,” Visit Orlando CEO Casandra Matej said in a statement Tuesday.

Spurring the recovery in the new year are growing advance hotel bookings in January and February as well as the more group business coming to Orlando.

The airlines are also getting demand from passengers coming to Orlando.

Domestic travel is growing although the newly returned international travel hasn’t fully rebounded yet. The U.S. government lifted travel restrictions on international flights in early November, allowing some foreign tourists to return to the country for the first time since the pandemic began.

Matej said: “Domestic seat capacity for Jan/Feb 2022 is currently anticipated to surpass 2019 levels. Internationally, airlines are continuing to add direct seats to the area although levels still lag pre-pandemic levels by about a third.”

Visit Orlando’s latest figures indicate the early tourism growth in 2022 carries momentum from the last months of 2021.

Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond announced the county’s hotel tax revenue hit about $25 million in November.

Diamond called it the second-highest November collection on record.

The rising hotel tax meant Orlando’s tourism industry is drawing more people in to pay the 6% surcharge on hotel rooms during their stay.

November’s hotel tax revenue surged 184% compared to a year ago in November 2020, during a time before vaccines were widely available, Diamond said Tuesday.

Overall, the area’s hotel occupancy averaged 63% for the month of November which marked the start of holiday crowds to the theme parks and an increase in conventions, according to Visit Orlando, a publicly funded tourism marketing organization. November was one of the busiest months in 2021 behind July and June, which are normally peak tourist season in Orlando. The comptroller’s office plans to release the latest information on December’s hotel tax revenue figures in early February.

But Diamond also warned the latest good news doesn’t mean the community’s challenges are over in the pandemic.

“While strong November (tax) collections were welcome news, the omicron variant’s recent meteoric rise is an unfortunate reminder that uncertainty and challenges lie ahead with the pandemic,” Diamond said.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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