WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — New numbers obtained by Contact 5 show just how hard the coronavirus pandemic has impacted Palm Beach County's $7.5 billion per year tourism industry.
Melissa Himes and her friend flew from Columbus, Ohio, to sunny South Florida for a much-needed change of scenery.
"We really need to get away, so here we are," she said.
Their visit is crucial to jump-starting the tourism economy in the aftermath of COVID-19.
"I'm happy to support local economy and small businesses and all that good stuff," Himes said.
New Tourist Development Council numbers show bed-tax collections for April are down 81% when compared to April 2019.
Hotel occupancy rates in April are just 20% -- made up mostly of essential travelers.
Palm Beach International Airport reported a 96.6% drop in total passengers for the same period of time.
"From the tourism standpoint, we knew it was going to be devastating," Glenn Jergensen said.
Jergensen is the executive director of Palm Beach County's Tourist Development Council. He compared the numbers to some other historical
"9/11 we went down about 10% in bed taxes," Jergensen said. "The Great Recession, we went down about 20% and right now we're projecting about a 33% decrease."
Jergensen said his team is already implementing plans to help safely bring back some of those dollars, but he said it is going to take time.
"It's going to take us about two to three years to get back to these levels of bed taxes pre-COVID," he said.
Right now, the focus is on trying to attract locals and the summer drive market to Palm Beach County's 47 miles of beaches and open spaces.
"The locals can now come out and support the industry, give the hotels a chance to get their processes in place, give the restaurants a chance to understand how they're going to deal with visitors," Jergensen said.
An airport representative told Contact 5 that capacity numbers are improving and airlines are bringing back more services.