Major tourist attractions in central Florida began reopening Friday after Hurricane Ian devastated the state. But the storm’s destructive path along the southwest coast has left many businesses facing a long process of rebuilding.

“The places that people used to go to that no longer exist, I’m afraid it could take a year or two, years before it even returns to some form of normality,” he said. said Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

After:Hurricane Ian damage in Cape Coral

After:37 photos of the iconic Fort Myers Beach pier before it was destroyed by Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian slammed into the Fort Myers area as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, inundating buildings and leaving millions without power. The death toll so far is at least 27, the Associated Press reported on Friday. President Joe Biden has said Ian could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history.

An entire island “almost disappeared”

Pine Island showed major signs of damage after high winds and flooding from Hurricane Ian hit the island.  This image was taken on Friday, September 30, 2022.

Sanibel, a barrier island in Lee County southwest of Fort Myers, was devastated by Ian after being hit by what Governor Ron DeSantis called a “biblical” storm surge. The hurricane severely damaged the Sanibel Causeway, the 3-mile connector between the island and mainland Florida, cutting off access to the community of 6,300 people.

“Sanibel Island is pretty much gone,” Dover said. “All of our hotels and restaurants have completely disappeared or have a long way to go to get back on their feet.”

Sanibel Moorings Resort, located on the barrier island, said its offices “appear to have been completely washed out” and will remain closed until further notice.

“I fear it will be a long time before we can return to the island to fully access the damage,” the resort said in a Facebook post, adding that it cannot begin to contact people. with future reservations until utilities are restored.

The Sunshine State’s recreation and hospitality industry employs more than 1.2 million people, a 9.6 percent increase from a year ago, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. The vast majority of these jobs are in accommodation and food services.

Some hotels and restaurants that weren’t badly damaged, Dover said, have started cleaning up in hopes of reopening soon.

“They’re the lucky ones,” Dover said. “The less fortunate, they will be completely out of a job, out of work.”

The storm’s passage will likely impact some of the roughly 70,000 jobs that rely on visitor spending in Lee County alone, said Twila Mae Logan, associate professor at Florida International’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. University.

“During the period of restoration and reconstruction, accommodation establishments will be closed or have significantly reduced occupancy, which may result in layoffs and layoffs of their employees,” Logan said in an email.

But the economic activity that results from rebuilding infrastructure, Logan said, could offset some of the lost jobs and business activity in the hospitality and tourism industry.

Major theme parks continue

Theme parks are a major attraction for Florida, attracting millions of visitors year-round. Central Florida is home to some of the busiest parks in the world, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.

In the Orlando area, Disney World and Universal Orlando began reopening in phases on Friday. Meanwhile, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Adventure Island, SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando and Discovery Cove parks reopened on Saturday.

“We continue to closely monitor weather conditions as we assess the impact of Hurricane Ian on our property,” Disney Parks tweeted Thursday.

Florida ranks among the most visited states in the country. Overall, Florida welcomed nearly 118 million domestic visitors in 2021. The city of Orlando alone welcomed 59.3 million visitors last year, according to tourism board Visit Orlando.

“Our hearts continue to be with everyone affected by Hurricane Ian and we are grateful for the hard work of our team members during this difficult time,” Universal Orlando said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming all of our guests and team members back.”

Areas hardest hit by Ian could see a drop in visitor numbers, Logan said. The drop in arrivals will depend on how quickly areas like Naples and Fort Myers can rebuild their public and private infrastructure.

“The hospitality and tourism industry is extremely resilient,” Logan said. “The recent COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that this industry has the knowledge and ability to recover and emerge stronger from disasters and setbacks.”

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