March 13, 2020, 4 p.m.:

With coronavirus (COVID-19) causing tremendous impact across all aspects of daily life, including last night’s news of temporary theme park closures, these are truly unprecedented times. Over the past few days, developments have been occurring at a staggering pace. Recognizing the highly fluid nature of this situation, here are some important updates I wanted to share with you.

  • Until recently, our destination hadn’t seen a significant number of leisure travelers cancel their trips. That is no longer the case. As of Sunday (the most recent data available), metro Orlando hotel bookings through the end of March are down nearly 15% when compared to this time last year. Given recent events, we are now bracing for an even more pronounced slowdown in the weeks ahead.

  • Despite the understandable downturn in our lodging sector, we remain cautiously optimistic for a strong recovery. And Visit Orlando is preparing a big push to bring visitors back to our destination, at the appropriate time. This was the focus of my presentation today to the Orange County Tourist Development Council, and Visit Orlando is happy to have the full support of our community leaders in this regard.

  • Many hotels, resorts, restaurants and other activities remain open across Orlando, and we are reinforcing that message to current and potential visitors. Also, our website is constantly being updated with the latest information, including resources related to health and safety.  

  • Based on our research, we are making near-term strategic adjustments in our marketing and media plans. This includes retaining our position in core markets while greatly amplifying our messaging to regional “drive” markets such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and other areas of the Southeast. Our goal is to promote visitation leading in to the prime summer vacation season.

  • With so much uncertainty surrounding air travel, it’s important to note that 91% of our visitors are from the United States and 70% arrive here by car. Only about 1% of our visitation comes from continental Europe, which now faces a federal ban on inbound travel.

  • As you’re aware, Orlando’s convention industry is being hit particularly hard, with multiple shows canceling over the next several weeks. Our team and the Orange County Convention Center are working with impacted groups to reschedule, and some have found dates for this fall. Others are looking to return in future years.

  • Finally, several restaurants, hotels and others that serve the convention industry are facing a troubling downstream impact. Whenever possible, please try to show your community support by helping to offset some of their losses.

Looking ahead, it’s clear that our destination faces one of its most challenging moments in history. No one knows what the future holds. But this much is certain: A new day will dawn. And when it does, Orlando, with our history of resiliency, will be back strong.