Nine days after Hurricane Irma brought Florida to a near standstill, many of its tourist attractions are open for business, good news for an economy to which tourism contributes about $109 billion a year, according to state officials.
One serious and notable exception is the Florida Keys, which was the area of the state most severely damaged. Officials don’t expect the Keys to be open to tourists until mid-October, and Jacksonville in Northeast Florida is still struggling with flood cleanup.
The biggest tourist draws reopened quickly in Irma’s wake. With Orlando relatively unscathed by the storm, Epcot Center and Disney World were back in almost full operation three days later, and Disney’s two water parks opened by the end of the week.
Tampa is back to normal, says Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association, who notes that the city lucked out when the hurricane moved about 40 miles to the east as it approached the region. There may have been some impact on travel, but it wasn’t visible in terms of attendance at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home game Sunday, he says. The team played to a full house.
Miami, too, is ready for visitors. Swimming restrictions were lifted Saturday on the last of the Miami beaches that had been closed while officials checked for storm-related contamination, and nearly all hotels are open. Miami International Airport expects to return to its full schedule by this weekend. But a few smaller attractions aren't quite ready. Zoo Miami, for instance, is still cleaning up debris and may not open for another two months.
Some travel agents doubt that the storm will dissuade many visitors from heading to the Sunshine State this season. Amy Eben, manager of Travel Advantage in Sioux Center, Iowa, says she has a "huge" number of clients headed there in the next few months. “It’s such a great place.”
“The Caribbean’s going to take a while to recover,” says Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Va., “but I think Florida’s going to be fine.”