Florida Tourism Economy Could Take $7B Hurricane Ian Hit

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(Bloomberg) –Walt Disney Co. theme-park guests are used to standing in lines, but there was a particularly long queue at the Coronado Springs Resort this week.

Guests at that and other Disney properties in Orlando, Florida, stocked up on $5 breakfast boxes and $7 sandwiches, as Hurricane Ian made its way toward the state.

Disney, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. closed their Florida theme parks this week as Ian neared, but Disney and Universal kept many of their hotels open so guests could take shelter from the storm.

Ports on both sides of the state have shut down, forcing big cruise operators like Carnival Corp. to cancel departures and reroute ships. Airlines canceled thousands of flights and Tampa International Airport closed.

Florida ranks among the most-visited states by both foreign and domestic tourists. Orlando alone welcomed 59.3 million visitors last year. And the state’s tourism industry had been roaring back after two years of pandemic. But Ian, heading straight toward the center of the Sunshine State, could upend that.

Physical damage to Florida’s tourism infrastructure, mostly hotels, could reach $5 billion, estimates Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. Lost revenue from tourists not being able to rent boats, ride theme-park rides or buy drinks at the pool, could top $2 billion.

“So much depends on how quickly Ian decays as it moves across the Orlando area,” Watson said in an email. At current storm levels, closures could last a week or more. If the storm dissipates more quickly, the outage could be just a few days.

The state’s tourism industry has plenty of experience with storms. Hurricane Irma, in September 2017, forced Disney to close its theme parks for two days and cancel three cruises. The parks reopened with minimal damage, however, and the first guests to return got a treat: lighter-than-usual crowds.

Other storms that year, including Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, caused trouble for the cruise industry. They canceled some trips and redirected others. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. sent their empty ships to the Caribbean to evacuate tourists from the islands. Royal Caribbean reported a $55 million earnings hit due to the storms that year.

–With assistance from Brian K. Sullivan.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.



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