Florida Tourism Rolls On Despite Travel Advisories and Political Battles

In the months leading up to Gianfranco Rivera’s first wedding anniversary, he had the perfect celebration planned. It was a trip to her world of Disney with her husband Ahmed and her brother-in-law Luis, enjoying all of her favorite rides. All three are gay, Latino, from Puerto Rico but now live in Texas. As the trip got closer, Gianfranco, 42, said he was somewhat apprehensive about traveling to a state that has passed legislation targeting LGBTQ people in recent months.

But in the end they went.

And on a recent Saturday, they were just some of the usual people waiting in line at an Orlando theme park for Space Mountain, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Gianfranco’s favorite ride, the Flight of Passage. . Little did Disney World know that day that the Latin American Citizens League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the LGBTQ group Equality Florida had recently warned people to reconsider visiting Florida. It should be. The policies of Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican lawmakers.

I was traveling to Florida following an NAACP recommendation to see if the warnings had any effect. Mr. and Mrs. Liberas and other travelers told me that while they violated many laws recently passed in Florida, they didn’t feel that canceling their vacation would help anyone, or that they would change their policy. Told. In fact, some travelers said they went to Disney and certain parts of Florida to get away from politics.

“Coming to Disney in particular is like entering a safe zone,” Stephanie Kate Jones, who was visiting Disney from Wales, England, told me. “Coming here is a way to escape reality and the stresses of everyday life.”

And while the alert was widely reported outside the state, so far it appears to have had little or no impact on tourist numbers.

“Travel always transcends politics,” said Stacey Ritter, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale tourism group Visit Lauderdale. “People have always traveled to places where they disagree with politics because they want to see something new, something different. They want experiences. They want vacations.”

Governor DeSantis, who won a resounding reelection in 2022, has made a number of changes to society, from so-called “don’t say gay” education bills restricting gender and sex education to his decision to ban advanced placement instruction. adopted conservative policies. Because the history of African Americans was in the form of “”.indoctrinationto a tough crackdown on illegal immigration.

DeSantis, who recently ran for president in 2024, has also been at odds with Disney since last year when Disney announced it was suspending political donations in Florida over the sex education bill. The two then began to fight over control of the board of directors overseeing the development of Disney World, with Mr. DeSantis trying to control the board and limit Disney’s powers.

Disney sued the governor this spring over the issue, and in May the company announced it was canceling a planned $1 billion development in Orlando.

In announcing his candidacy for president, Mr. DeSantis said the NAACP’s recommendations were “absolute farce.” He said the travel warnings are as follows: political stunt. “These left-wing groups have been doing it for years, and ultimately what they are doing is colluding with the traditional media to fabricate a narrative,” he said. .

But Equality Florida spokesman Brandon Wolfe said the group has been receiving more inquiries about whether it is safe for LBGTQ travelers to go to Florida. “We felt it was essential to answer the inquiries honestly and completely,” he said.

In announcing LULAC’s recommendations, the group’s president, Domingo Garcia, cautioned: “DeSantis’ Enforcement Regulations will treat us like criminals and transport dangerous individuals who just wanted to visit family and enjoy Disney World.”

And NAACP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Derrick Johnson said in an email in response to DeSantis’ comments: Americans don’t have to pour labor, time, or money into the nation. ”

Florida is a tourist powerhouse. 2022 will see 137.6 million visitors, the most ever, according to Visit Florida and the Governor’s Office in May. proudly share Florida received 37.9 million visitors in the first three months of the year.

Orlando remains the most visited city in the United States, with 74 million travelers in 2022. According to Visit Florida, tourists visiting Orlando in 2021 contributed $101.9 billion to the Florida economy and supported more than 1.7 million Florida jobs.

While many Floridians said the civil rights group’s travel warning was symbolic, another said they feared people would stop visiting the state altogether. there were hardly any. Some recalled the backlash against North Carolina’s 2016 “toilet bill,” which would bar transgender people from using gender-appropriate toilets. The impact of the bill was immediate and significant, leading to its repeal.

Nicholas Graff Vice Dean A professor at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism in the New York University College of Professional Studies said state policies may prevent politically active people from visiting destinations, but “business travelers The idea that travelers, such as travelers and leisure travelers, will actually travel is not going to happen.” I think that people who change their behavior because of politics are in the minority. ”

And that applies across the political sphere: Conservative Lance Toland Georgia based business owner DeSantis, who supports his attempts to curb Disney, said state policy would not prevent him from visiting. For example, he said California’s liberty law doesn’t prevent him from going there. “I can’t worry about where each state stands. It doesn’t affect me.”

When I visited, in many of the popular tourist destinations, life continued uninterrupted. In Winter Park, just north of Orlando, there were long lines for restaurants like Prato, a casual Italian restaurant with a large outdoor patio. When I stopped several shoppers coming out of luxury boutiques along Park Avenue, they said they had heard of the dispute between Disney and Mr. DeSantis, but had not heard of travel advisories. .

Ashley Smith, 32, was visiting friends in Winter Park over the weekend and was on a boat tour around Winter Park’s lakes. When she asked what she thought of this recommendation, she replied that she could not understand how restricting her own travel had to do with the state’s political drama.

The recommendations are the result of years of work by the state’s tourism authorities to expand the tourist base. For example, in 2021, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that it has changed its name to: lauderdale trip And it got a new flashy tagline: “Everyone Under the Sun.”

For the past decade, Visit Lauderdale has recognized that foreign, black, Latino and LGBTQ travelers have discretionary income that can be used for vacations and real estate, and appealing to the tourism board is prudent. It’s just one of several tourist offices in the state. they.

More recently, however, tourism boards, destination marketing organizations and travel agencies across the state have been looking for ways to continue to appeal to a diverse traveler.

Many of them prefer not to address this controversy directly. Tourism marketing organizations in Florida are funded through lodging taxes. When a traveler checks in at a hotel or resort, part of the accommodation fee is used to fund the activities of tourist groups and tourism organizations. That tax is governed by state law. The leaders of the three destination marketing groups all asked to speak anonymously and do not support the recently enacted law, but publicly criticizing Mr. He said he was concerned that funding to Congress could be reduced or eliminated. their organization.

Jen Cousins, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Reading Project and mother of four, Part of In a federal lawsuit challenging the sex education bill, she said she believes travel industry stakeholders, including cruises, airlines and destination marketing organizations, should speak out against recent legislation. rice field.she also said: Meeting with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Secretary of Health Rachel Levin, Assistant Secretary of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and other activists were said to have support in Washington, but “no one intervened,” she said. The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Ritter, President and Chief Executive Officer of Visit Lauderdale, was positive about going on record. “Do you think the effects will be felt immediately? No, they aren’t,” she said.

But business and corporate travelers, who make up a large part of the travel industry, are already looking elsewhere, she said. Seven major conferences and conventions have withdrawn from plans to be held in Fort Lauderdale in the week since civil rights groups issued the warning, she said. Many event organizers are looking at events three to five years from now, and far fewer are considering Florida, Ritter said. Her organization doesn’t even participate in specific events. It’s because I feel it’s a waste.

“And it’s directly related to national policy,” she says.

One of the reasons Gianfranco Rivera pushed through with the anniversary trip was because he felt his travel expenses were actually being used against Mr. DeSantis’ policies to go to Disney. “Disney is standing up for our rights and I feel like being here supports their decision to stand up to DeSantis,” he said. “Many people who work at Disney are part of our community, the L.GBTQ community, and being here is our way of supporting them.”

Many of the travelers I met at Disney World and along the Jacksonville Beach Pier suggested that in some ways the most likely area of ​​the state to visit wasn’t really Florida. Key West, Miami, Wilton Manors, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota traditionally vote Democratic and are often home to large numbers of L.GBTQ and immigrant residents who do not agree with the proposed legislation. Visitors said they could defy state Republican lawmakers by supporting the economies of these places.

They also said they felt conflicted about the recommendation, saying the warning could potentially harm local business owners, low-income residents and liberal enclaves more than Mr. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers. He said it felt like a political escalation.

Some Florida residents felt the same way. “As a resident of Orlando, our tourism mecca, I’m not advocating a travel ban because many of our friends have these low-paying travel-related jobs,” Cousins ​​said. said. “They are the ones affected, not the highly paid CEOs.”

For now, the state’s tourism industry feels like they’re walking a certain line.Rachel Covello out coastA digital magazine focused on the LGBTQ community said the publication had been used to promote the state as an all-inclusive destination. She said she doesn’t tell people to ‘stop’ now, but highlights certain destinations that are known to welcome LGBTQ travelers.

“We changed our focus,” she said. “We’re promoting tourism, but we don’t want to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in our state.”

Follow The New York Times Travel upon Instagram and Sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter Get expert tips and inspiration for your next vacation to travel smarter.Are you dreaming about your future vacation or just want to travel in your armchair? Check us out 52 places to visit in 2023.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button