TALLAHASSEE – State economists expressed optimism on Tuesday that already rebounding tourism numbers will see a quicker-than-expected boost from international travelers as Canada eases border restrictions linked to COVID -19.
While decisions remain from the White House regarding Canadian travelers entering the United States, members of the Florida Economic Estimates Conference said on Tuesday they expected changes to be made to make it more convenient for travelers. people traveling south of the Canada-US border.
“The border is closed. The border opens. You’re going to take a big leap in terms of people, ”said Holger Ciupalo, policy coordinator for the governor’s policy and budget office, as economists considered the long-term outlook for Florida’s economy.
On Monday, the Canadian government announced that starting August 9, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens will be able to visit Canada without having to quarantine for two weeks. Children under 12 who are not approved to receive vaccines will also be exempt from the quarantine rule as long as they follow public health measures such as avoiding certain group locations, including camps and daycares. .
Even with growing uncertainty over the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, which rocked the stock market on Monday, the Florida panel of economists on Tuesday sought to move a forecast for travel to Canada to meet pre- numbers. pandemic earlier than the first quarter of 2022.
With less than 48% of eligible Florida residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislative Assembly’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, expressed reluctance to be overly optimistic in forecasting travel due to of the Delta variant.
But Ciupalo has said he expects the White House to match changes in Canadian border policy over the next three weeks.
“Yes, you have the Delta variant coming out. However, over 70 percent of Canadians are vaccinated. They are still vaccinated, ”Ciupalo said. “Yes, the United States lacks that. Either way. So I don’t think the forecast for Canadians should come from anywhere right now. “
The United States and Canada have restricted non-essential travel across the border due to the pandemic. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that international travel decisions await advice from public health and medical experts.
“We take this incredibly seriously, but we watch and are guided by our own medical experts. I wouldn’t look at it through reciprocal intent, ”she said.
Travel by Canadians to Florida for the first quarter of 2021 was down 97.2% from the same period in 2020, with Florida attracting 34,000 Canadians during the period, according to figures from Visit Florida.
The state’s tourism promotion agency also estimated that overall international tourism was down 74.4% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.
The state attracted around 564,000 foreign visitors in the first three months of the year, with many countries imposing border controls and other travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
Visit Florida’s second quarter numbers are not expected to be released until next month. Those numbers are expected to easily overtake the second quarter of 2020, when the tourism industry hit rock bottom due to the pandemic.
Florida attracted 26.16 million visitors this year from Jan. 1 to March 31, compared to 30.4 million tourists in the first quarter of 2020, according to Visit Florida.
Vesselka McAlarney, who makes an economic forecast for the Office of Economic & Demographic Research, said figures for the first quarter of this year may be partly “artificially boosted” by former part-time residents and online workers who are definitely moving to Florida. But that shouldn’t impact the expected growth in international travel to Florida.
Florida attracted an estimated 79.75 million tourists in 2020, a 39.3% drop from 2019. The 2020 numbers were the lowest in a decade for a state that relies heavily on tourism to fuel its economy.
Until the pandemic, Florida has seen nine consecutive years of increased tourist numbers, surpassed by 131.4 million travelers in 2019.
The pandemic began hammering the state’s economy in March 2020, amid a time of year that includes tourist attractions such as spring break and spring baseball training.
The number of tourists fell to 9.92 million in the second quarter of 2020, a decrease of 69.4% from the previous year, before increasing to 20.33 million in the third quarter and 19.096 million in the fourth trimester.