As we enter the final weekend of the traditional summer travel season, it's worth noting that, despite the ongoing challenges created by the global pandemic, some positive developments are giving us hope on many fronts.
Americans continue to be more optimistic about resuming travel-related activities, including visiting theme parks and flying commercially. The Labor Day weekend lodging forecast for our region is encouraging, excitement continues over Visit Orlando's Magical Dining, and Orange County has shown the world that we can hold safe, highly attended conventions.
Of course, the best news is that this progress is taking place against a backdrop of COVID-19 cases trending downward for several weeks on the local and state levels. So, please continue to mask up and do your part. The evidence makes clear that we are Safer, Stronger, Together.
TDT Climbing Higher: Collections of Orange County's Tourist Development Tax, a 6% levy on overnight lodging, rose to $5.16 million in July, nearly twice as much as what was collected in June and over six times higher than when we hit bottom in April. This good news is thanks in large part to Disney World's mid-July reopening, and I'm optimistic that August's collection results will continue to trend in the right direction. Read more
Travel Plans on the Rise: Americans' readiness to travel has risen strongly, with 55% categorized as "ready to travel," up from 45% just last week. Fall travel expectations have also improved, with more than a third of Americans saying they expect to travel this fall. September through December has seen a large increase in tentatively planned trips, and nearly 7 in 10 Americans still plan to travel in the next six months.
Labor Day Weekend: Based on advance hotel bookings, Labor Day weekend is expected to register Orlando's highest occupancy rates since the pandemic. While advance bookings are still down about 50% from last year at this time, that is well ahead of the Memorial Day and July Fourth weekends.
Hotel Metrics: Metro Orlando's occupancy rate for the week ending Aug. 29 was 27.2%, down from 29.3% the previous week. Average daily rate rose $1.28 to $80.24. The drop in occupancy reflects a seasonal pattern usually seen in late August and September when schools resume.
'Back-to-Normal' Barometer: The percentage of Americans willing to immediately participate in most activities continues its steady rise. More than half are willing to visit a theme park now (54%), and half are willing to stay in a hotel (50%) or attend a conference/convention (48%). After several weeks trending in a negative direction, flying commercially rose 10 percentage points to 48%. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans said they would be more likely to engage in typical daily activities if everyone wore a proper face covering and stayed six feet apart.
Sharing the Excitement: Our marketing and publicity teams have been hard at work spreading the news about Visit Orlando's Magical Dining, which offers $35, three-course meals through Oct. 4 at dozens of our member restaurants. Here are just a few examples: WKMG, FOX 35 and the Orlando Sentinel.
Giving More to Charity: As in years past, $1 from each Magical Dining meal goes to a local charity. New this year, however, diners can choose to donate a larger amount — and early reports suggest the idea is a popular one. As an example, The Melting Pot Orlando raised an additional $560 through its first three days. The restaurant is even giving guests a $25 gift certificate if they donate $25. I applaud this innovative approach to generating more donations for our Magical Dining charity, Feed the Need Florida.
Leading the Way: I want to point out two very successful examples of how Orlando is leading the way in the return of meetings and conventions. In July, the Orange County Convention Center hosted two modified events — the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior National Volleyball Championships and the Together Again Expo. Combined, they drew more than 10,000 people, and gave the industry a wonderful template for holding safe, effective gatherings. Learn more about the OCCC's health and safety efforts in this video.
COVID Compliance: Ending on a positive note, it's been one month since Orange County established "strike teams" to ensure businesses are following county requirements for keeping COVID-19 in check. To date, more than 1,500 locations have been visited, and nearly 90% have been in compliance with the county's mask mandate. Watch the latest video from the Safer, Stronger, Together campaign to see a day in the life of a strike team member.
On a sad note, our community recently lost a great leader and philanthropist, Judson Green. A past president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Judson exemplified the strongest qualities of great leadership with all who knew and worked with him. I had the good fortune and privilege of being part of his team during his tenure at Disney and will always carry fondly the special memories of that time.