TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Universal Studios opened its doors Friday as Florida moved into Phase Two of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen the state after the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
As entertainment venues begin operations, tourists won’t be far behind.
That’s good news for the state’s economy, but recent increases in COVID-19 cases have some warning visitors to use caution before planning that next vacation.
As part of Phase Two, theme parks can operate at 50% capacity.
Universal opened at 35% capacity on Friday, and Disney won’t begin opening its parks until July.
But the return of the major attractions is an encouraging sign for industries that rely on tourism dollars.
“From retail to lodging to food service, and so as those amenities come back online, it’s going to be very helpful to the economy,” said Geoff Luebkemann, vice president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Visit Florida is still preparing for its in-state ad campaign, but data on its website show tourist confidence is steadily rising nationwide.
That means it’s likely out-of-state travelers will begin returning to Florida. A COVID-19 checkpoint put up on I-10 at the Alabama border came down this week, but another on I-95 north of Jacksonville remained.
But Orlando State Sen. Linda Stewart is urging caution before racing off to the theme parks.
“It's up to the individual's decision on whether they want to take that risk now or not and they may just wait a month or two,” said Stewart.
COVID-19 cases in Florida saw a spike of over 1,000 cases a day the past three days, which could reflect the return of large crowds over Memorial Day weekend.
Stewart said ultimately it will fall on businesses and individuals to take the proper precautions for Phase Two to be successful.
“We can only hope that, with good luck, that when these open that it will not be devastating and we'll be able to continue on,” said Stewart.
And when Visit Florida launches its in-state ad campaign the focus will be on outdoor tourist attractions like parks and beaches.
Whether theme parks will be part of the campaign is to be determined.
If you’d like to see the COVID-19 tourism data collected by Visit Florida for yourself, click here. The data is updated daily.