I’ve been writing about Florida travel since the 1990s, first for magazines and then my book. Now I write for clients in a variety of industries, including travel and tourism. They (and everyone else who relies on Florida tourism directly or indirectly) are wondering: In the midst of dealing with COVID-19, when will Florida tourism return to normal?

It’s February, which is traditionally when Florida sees the most visitors from the north. A recent trip to the beach revealed plenty of out-of-state and Canadian license plates. However, it’s not at the usual level. In fact, in a recent interview, the head of Florida’s tourism board said, “We miss our Canadian winter residents. We want you to come back. It’s not the same without you!” But she didn’t exactly have an answer for when will Florida tourism return to normal.

You can’t blame her. The COVID-19 disaster has been — yes, the word we have all been overusing — unprecedented. Travel, tourism, and hospitality have been hit hard by travel bans and quarantines. Even though Florida has been open for months, some people might not have the money to travel because of virus-induced job loss. Others may not feel it’s safe to travel yet.

Outlook for Florida tourism to return to normal

For some of my travel-oriented clients, business has been steady. Other than a brief spell last spring when nearly everything shut down, they haven’t experienced a negative economic impact from the virus. For another, the virus has created opportunities to grow in a new direction.

Still, we all hear in the news about the tragic loss of jobs in the theme parks, hotels, and airlines. Last year’s second quarter saw a 60.5% drop in visitors, with international travel off 90%. Some estimates have Florida tourism rebounding this summer, while others say it could take years for Florida to come back.

Because a large part of Florida’s economy comes from tourism, and because so many small businesses help make Florida tourism possible, it’s important to keep moving toward normal. Or maybe tourism, whenever it lands back on its feet, won’t look exactly the same (aka normal), but will be better. A tourism industry that is better for visitors and better for Floridians — in a variety of ways and not just economically — is a good goal to have.

The good that has come from crisis

For example, look at all the good changes we have seen in the past 11 months. Restaurants have shown an amazing adaptability to provide takeout, social distancing, and outdoor seating. Hotels have been cleaner than ever. More visitors (and Floridians!) are getting to know Florida’s beautiful natural areas and spending time outdoors. This could lead to more advocacy for the environment. And the story is that people are doing more staycations and nearcations, which means Floridians are getting to know their own state a little better.

COVID-19 has changed how we do things. Some changes may stick, and some might not. That’s life. Businesses of all kinds have always had to adapt to marketplace fluctuations. My feeling is that tourism will come back, and my hope is that we will look back and see that this crisis made our Florida communities and small businesses stronger than ever.

I want to help be part of that strength building. If you have a Florida business in travel, tourism, hospitality, or recreation, I’d like to offer a free review of your digital marketing efforts and give you my recommendations to help you grow your online presence. Just send me a message.