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Florida tourism bounces back after Hurricane Irma

Brittany Jones-Cooper
A family enjoys their time at Walt Disney after Hurricane Irma. (Visit Orlando)
A family enjoys their time at Walt Disney after Hurricane Irma. (Visit Orlando)

Hurricane Irma pummeled parts of Florida during the weekend of Sept. 9, causing $58 billion to $83 billion in damage, according to Moody’s Analytics.

As locals rebuild their lives, the hospitality industry wants to stop tourists from choosing other destinations. Several Florida-based tourism bureaus have introduced marketing initiatives this week in an effort to bring back visitors. Despite the destruction (10,000 homes in Miami-Dade County are still without power), by and large, life in downtown Miami has returned to its usual pace.

“When you look back it feels like a long time, but it’s only been 10 days. We are open for business — the airport is open, the seaport is open and the vast majority of hotels [are open],” William Talbert, CEO of Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) told Yahoo Finance.

The job now is to remind people that Miami is back to business, which is why the visitors bureau launched its #MiamiNow initiative on Sept. 20. This marketing campaign bundles and extends several existing programs that provide visitors with deals on hotels, restaurants, spas, museums, attractions, and shopping. A sample deal includes a $23 lunch or $39 dinner at some of Miami’s hottest restaurants like STK South Beach and The Capital Grille. The visitors bureau is also urging tourists to check out the conditions of the city on their own by viewing live webcams of Miami’s beaches at SeeMiamiLive.com. The #MiamiNow campaign will run until Oct. 31.

According to Talbert, local hotels have worked incredibly hard to get things back to normal as fast as possible. On Sept.18, just seven days after Irma, The Loews Hotel on South Beach welcomed 400 employees from Rukus Wireless for an annual partner event. Meanwhile, IMN, a global organizer of institutional finance and investment conferences, held an event at the Fontainebleu Miami Beach from Sept. 17-19.

For Miami, tourists are more than just visitors, they are a crucial part of the city’s economy. “Travel and tourism are Miami’s No. 1 industry,” said Talbert. “[It] always has been, and always will be.”

In 2016, Miami welcomed 16 million overnight visitors from around the world, a record for the coastal city. Those tourists spent $25 billion, with 70% of that money coming from international visitors.

Orlando is up and running

Central Florida residents and businesses suffered less damage than some of their southern neighbors, but it didn’t come out completely unscathed. According to data from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, there were more than 452,000 insurance claims statewide, worth an estimated $2.7 billion. More than 122,000 of those claims are from Central Florida.

Tourists at Universal Studios after Hurricane Irma. (Visit Orlando)
Tourists at Universal Studios after Hurricane Irma. (Visit Orlando)

In Orlando, businesses have spent the past two weeks trying to get back to normal. On Sept. 20, Visit Orlando released photos of tourists enjoying local attractions post Irma to prove that the city was back to normal. The photos show teens from Ecuador posing at Universal Studios and a family snapping a selfie in front of Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World.

George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, credits the city’s huge tourism infrastructure and preparedness for its ability to effectively bounce back.

“We came right back pretty quickly,” Aguel told Yahoo Finance. “Disney World was right back up and there were thousands of people in the parks having fun again.”

Indeed, Walt Disney World shut down on Sept. 10 and 11 as Irma punished the park with wind gusts of up to 79 mph. It reopened a day later on Sept. 12. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew forced the park to close for one day.

“If you’ve got a family and you want to experience the parks, you’re not going to sacrifice that,” said Aguel.

Tourism in Orlando, however, includes more than just theme parks. The economic impact of tourism to the city hovers around $64 billion, thanks to 68 million annual visitors who patron 120 attractions such as Gatorland and the Kennedy Space Center, and 450 hotels boasting more than 120,000 rooms.

For Aguel, the goal now is to remind tourists that they are welcome to Orlando, and that the city has moved past Irma.

“It’s important for our local economy that tourism continues to do well,” he said. “So if you’re looking to get that lifetime memory, Orlando is still able to deliver that.”

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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