Florida Tourism Leaders Meet with Vice President on Revitalizing Travel Industry

Author: Casey Gale       


On May 20, travel industry leaders representing hotels and theme parks met with Vice President Mike Pence at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando to discuss recovery efforts. (Richard Pabis)

Travel-related industry sectors, including tourism and hospitality, have taken a severe hit during the COVID-19 crisis, now experiencing an unemployment rate of 51 percent in the United States, according to U.S. Travel Association. To address the recovery of travel-related industries in the United States, Vice President Mike Pence spoke with a number of industry leaders in a roundtable discussion on May 20 at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida.

The roundtable was also attended by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, George Kalogridis, president of segment development and enrichment for the Walt Disney Company, Marc Swanson, interim CEO of Seaworld Parks & Entertainment; John Sprouls, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Universal Parks and Resorts; Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association; and event host Harris Rosen, president and chief operating officer of Rosen Hotels & Resorts.

The discussion focused on the sectors that have been hit hard by the travel industry’s standstill, including meetings and events, destination marketing organizations, restaurants, retail, and more. The meeting participants also touched on policies that will need to enacted in order for the travel industry to successfully revitalize, including limited, temporary, and immediate protection from COVID-19-related liability for reopening travel businesses that follow health and safety protocols, expanded government aid, and stimulation measures once recovery begins, such as direct travel promotion funding and a possible tax credit for individuals willing to travel domestically.

Rosen told Convene after the roundtable that his main takeaway was “how sad and desperate our industry is to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Orlando needs to get back to normal as quickly as possible. If we don’t, we may never recover. So, how do we get back, as quickly as we can?”

Florida tourism attractions have started reopening in phases — Universal Orlando’s CityWalk and Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs shopping and entertainment areas opened at limited-capacity in mid-May, and Universal Orlando has asked the local government to allow its theme parks to begin reopening in early June. As establishments begin to reopen across Florida and the United States, Rosen said he believes he has a “reasonable” plan of action keeping guests safe at his hotels, as well as any other type of business, while also continuing to revitalize the economy.

“This is the Rosen, rather simplistic, answer,” he said. “First of all, we need to agree that [in order to have] all businesses — small, medium, large, extra-large — open up, we need to do two things. One, we have to screen on a daily basis all of the associates, all of the employees, at that particular establishment — screen them every day, meticulously,” Rosen said. “Two, screen every individual before they enter the premises. I don’t care if it’s a candy shop, I don’t care if it’s a spa, I don’t care if it’s a hotel — whatever it is, everyone will be screened.”

Rosen does not have a timeline for when he expects all of his properties to open — one of the company’s eight hotels, Rosen Centre, has remained open during the pandemic — but he said he is closely monitoring the return of local tourism, particularly Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. “We continue to crunch numbers,” he said. “If we anticipate a certain increase in occupancy, that will be reflected in the P&Ls that we do to determine if we’re better off open or closed.”

Casey Gale is an associate editor at Convene.

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