After spending much of the last year cooped up at home, people are anxious to get out.

They’re vaccinated, maskless and confident enough to start booking quick vacations to enjoy the county's manatees, scalloping, hiking and nature-based activities.

It’s that pent-up enthusiasm that local tourism officials hope to capitalize on as they market Citrus County during the emerging post-pandemic world.

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“They’re ready to go,” Citrus County Visitors Bureau Director John Pricher said. “I believe more people have reached the point where they feel safer going out and doing things.”

Pricher said his department is also expanding its reach to other regions of the country that have shown an increase in visitors during the past year. Those locations include New York, Philadelphia and Dallas-Fort Worth.

“While we continue to market to the areas where we’ve been successful, we’re exploring some of the emerging markets that we found have greater interest in the area than we previously expected,” Pricher said.

So far, most are short-notice trips, which can be trickier for hoteliers to book. 

“I think it should be a strong summer season,” Pricher said.

Citrus County gathers data from Smith Travel Research (STR) to measure hotel occupancy.

In March 2019 — one year before COVID-19 was to hit the world —  Citrus County hotels reported a 77.8% occupancy. In March 2020, when the pandemic started, occupancy dropped to 57.3%.

In pre-pandemic April 2019, local hotels reported a 63.7% occupancy. One year later, in April 2020, when the economic shutdown began, the rate fell to 24.5%.

The latest STR numbers are out and it shows a vast improvement — even over pre-pandemic numbers.

In March 2021, local hotels reported a 77% occupancy. April 2021, the rate reached 70.3%.

Most visitors are domestic travelers, Pricher said. The international market — which accounts for about 20% of local tourism — is still down.

As Pricher said, those travelers are just “waiting for the green light” to make travel plans.

Meanwhile, Visit Florida said the state drew 26,162 million domestic and international visitors from Jan. 1 to March 31, down from 30.4 million tourists during the first quarter of 2020.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said Tuesday the goal for the agency is to do better than a state economist’s projection that the Florida tourism sector will not make a full recovery until 2024.

Visit Florida reported recently that overseas travel was down 74.4% in the first quarter of 2021 from 2020, after falling 70.4% for all of 2020 from 2019.

“Overseas visitation numbers, while small, are still encouraging,” Young said. “And Florida is significantly outperforming the rest of the U.S. among international travelers. Though many of the borders remain close, we are seeing growing visitation from some Latin American markets, particularly Colombia and Mexico.”

 

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com. To see more of his stories, visit  tinyurl.com/y6kb23vv.