ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County leaders are starting to see signs of life again in the Tourist Development Tax collection, after some record low drops earlier this year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is a tax collected when people book hotel rooms that gets pumped right into the economy for projects and conventions.
Hotel occupancy rates rose to about 50 percent over Labor Day Weekend, one of the reasons why county leaders are encouraged.
For August 2020 the Tourist Development Tax Collection was $5.7 million. That is a 71 percent decrease from August 2019.
But at the county's lowest point, April 2020 saw less than $1 million in tax collection.
Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond said the state is not out of the woods and is still at historic low levels, and with Gov. Ron DeSantis' phase three reopening with loosened restrictions on theme parks, there is still uncertainty.
"I think lower positivity rates and lower number of cases send the message that they can be safe, so I think those are good signs and hopefully people will continue to wear masks, people continue to do all the things to stay healthy," Diamond said.
Diamond said there have been no reported outbreaks stemming from the theme parks so far.
Central Florida's unemployment rates are still the highest in the state.
In terms of reserves, Diamond said they're at a healthy level, but there is still uncertainty on when the tourism industry will recover.
Reserves decreased by $14.9 million in August of this year.
Restaurant Server Hopes Orlando's Tourism Bounces Back
Cafe 34 Istanbul on International Drive is always open, so daylight or night they see customers.
"It's actually been really busy since we reopened. We reopened about the 11th of May," server Alex Stoliarchuk said.
Before the pandemic, he said customers were about 80 percent tourists.
"Not even just from the United States, from all over the world, so yeah I miss meeting new people," he said.
Now, it's mostly locals with less people traveling to Central Florida.
Stoliarchuck recognizes it's going to take time to get back to normal, and he's hoping Orlando's tourism industry will be thriving once again.
"It could be better, but I'm happy I still have my job. I'm still working and being productive. And we still have customers," he said.
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