COVID-19 puts Tallahassee’s tourism on hold

Gov. DeSantis during a video news conference earlier this week. Photo courtesy Associated Press

The novel coronavirus has halted tourism all over the world, including what little tourism industry there is in Leon County.

The county has been at the center of staying up to date with changes regarding the virus in Florida.

“Like many industries, COVID-19 presents the tourism and hospitality sector with a monumental and evolving challenge. This is a global and local health crisis and an economic crisis,” said Tallahassee Division of Tourism/Visit Tallahassee in an email.

This pandemic comes at a time when Tallahassee was hoping to increase its tourism sector.

In 2019, for the first time in history, Tallahassee grossed more than $1 billion in tourism. Leon County was eager to keep the trend going.

Tallahassee also renewed funding for the Council on Culture and Arts (COCA) in February for the next five years. Leon County pondered putting this funding toward the Tallahassee Division of Tourism, but it was decided that while the two divisions overlap in some respects, their goals are distinct.

Nevertheless, both the Division of Tourism and COCA contribute to tourism in Tallahassee.

The Challenger Learning Center alone earned $950,000 in sales during the record-breaking year. It is currently closed per the orders of Governor Ron DeSantis and FAMU-FSU College of Engineering administration.

In addition to the Challenger Learning Center, other top Tallahassee tourist destinations are closed such as the Tallahassee Museum and the LeMoyne Arts Gallery & Education Center.

On the LeMoyne Arts Gallery website, last updated March 15, the gallery wrote it expected to be open again soon, “Following the recommendations of local and state officials regarding the COVID-19 virus, the LeMoyne Arts Gallery and Education Center will be CLOSED UNTIL TUESDAY, APRIL 7 at 10 a.m.”

The Florida Capitol is also currently closed to visitors.

Tallahassee International Airport has seen a decrease in fliers since the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of March 31, Leon County has 26 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including at least seven deaths that were almost all travel-related.

DeSantis has also enacted travel restrictions, placing checkpoints on interstates meant to curb out-of-state travelers from COVID-19 hotspots like New York and New Orleans.  In addition, travelers arriving by air from these hotspots will be screened and informed of the mandatory 14-day quarantine called for by DeSantis.

Although DeSantis acknowledged he doesn’t have the authority to “shut down flights,” he said, “I think it’s an issue when you have people leaving hot zones and coming to different parts of the country.”

The Leon County Division of Tourism/Visit Tallahassee is currently developing a destination recovery marketing and sales plan to be implemented once the self-quarantine has lifted and it is safe to travel again, the organization assured in an email.

“History has shown the tourism industry is incredibly resilient, and we are confident that our community will come out of this crisis stronger than ever before.”