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Florida Makes Plans To Welcome Back Tourists, Revive Economy


Florida is making plans to restart its economy. Tourism is one of its biggest industries, so this would mean opening hotels, beaches and theme parks. A state task force is releasing recommendations today on when that might be safe. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Research shows the coronavirus is spread by close contact, especially indoors. Because of that, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis believes many of Florida's attractions can be enjoyed safely.


RON DESANTIS: A lot of the things we offer, you know, it's more of the outdoors in the sunshine. And I think that that's just a better environment to be in.

ALLEN: In Florida, until the coronavirus, nearly 1 1/2 million people worked in the hotels, restaurants, theme parks and related businesses. Dana Young, the CEO of the state's tourism agency, this week rolled out a marketing plan that's ready for when hotels, restaurants and other businesses get the green light to reopen. Young says the good news is that more people have been visiting the state's travel safety information page recently.

DANA YOUNG: This tells us that people want to know if it is safe to travel to Florida because the desire to visit our state still exists.

ALLEN: Governor DeSantis is encouraging local governments to reopen beaches for activities like running, walking and swimming while maintaining social distancing guidelines. But in southeast Florida, from Palm Beach to Key West - some of the state's top tourist destinations - the beaches remain closed. In Miami Beach, the mayor says they likely won't be reopened there before June. That decision hasn't been popular with people like Philip Goldfarb. He's president of the Fontainebleau, a landmark Miami Beach hotel. He says allowing resort hotels to welcome visitors without also opening the beaches is a mistake.

PHILIP GOLDFARB: If people are going to come and stay at a luxury hotel or a resort or a regular hotel, they're going to want to be able to go to the beach.

ALLEN: Florida's largest attractions, its theme parks, were also considering how to reopen. The CEO of Universal Orlando, John Sprouls, says handling potentially thousands of guests in a way that keeps them safe is a challenge. But theme parks, he says, have some advantages.

JOHN SPROULS: Each of our parks alone is over 125 acres. And our total complex is nearly 800 acres. We have a greater ability to practice and enforce social distancing while still allowing guests to experience our parks.

ALLEN: At first, attendance would likely be limited. Among the things being discussed is screening employees and guests when they enter the park, encouraging face coverings and sanitizing rides throughout the day. Universal says it will create social distance spaces for guests by staggering seating on rides and in shows. Sprouls says it will also move to virtual lines already in use at its waterpark.

SPROULS: We minimize the amount of time anybody is waiting in any kind of a line and, therefore, standing in a group waiting to take one of the attractions. And we're going to take that virtual line technology and expand it to as many of our attractions as possible.

ALLEN: As to when the parks might reopen, Sprouls would only say he hopes it will be sooner rather than later. Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, is not so optimistic. Safely reopening large attractions like sports stadiums and theme parks before there's a vaccine or better testing available, she says, will be difficult.

AILEEN MARTY: Particularly these big theme parks that draw individuals from all over the world and not just from a community. So it's a much more challenging thing to figure out how to open those parks up safely.

ALLEN: Industry analysts are divided on how soon theme parks can reopen. One analyst predicts Disney, the industry leader, may reopen its parks as early as June. But a report released by another financial firm said, because of health concerns, Disney's parks will likely be closed until January.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF SURFER BLOOD'S "HARMONIX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.