Businesses report strong summer season – but room to grow

ORLANDO, Fla. — Business owners in Mount Dora, Winter Garden and elsewhere across Central Florida said they had a strong summer season, closing in on levels last seen in 2019.

However, area officials report that the area hasn’t completely recovered from the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shutdown.

READ: Fight to help those unemployed by pandemic continues after federal assistance expires

“Things have been great,” Mount Dora’s Black Swan Mercantile owner Leeann Ganung said. “It’s been a great summer. Lot of people coming out, some locals, but a lot of out-of-towners.”

Ganung’s experience matches reports by Visit Florida. The tourism agency’s Q2 report said domestic travelers had exceeded 2019 levels, but international travel was still down.

“Based on the latest estimates, visitation is now just 2.2 percent behind pre-pandemic levels,” Visit Florida Communications Manager Leslie Pearsall wrote. “With travel in decline by 70 percent just a little over a year ago, these incredible gains underscore the effectiveness of VISIT FLORIDA’s marketing and resiliency of Florida’s tourism industry.”

READ: ‘It could have been me or my family’: Neighbor reacts to Polk County shooting that killed 4

That is good news for Central Florida. Despite the statewide unemployment average increasing throughout the summer, unemployment rates in local counties dropped between June and July 2021, according to state labor statistics.

The government attributes this to the continued recovery of the hospitality and tourism sector, which added more than 138,000 jobs this year.

Winter Garden Wheel Works’ main problem wasn’t a lack of customers or employees this season. Owner Dennis Jones said he’s made a project out of navigating international shipping delays.

READ: ‘The Wire’ actor Michael K. Williams found dead in NYC apartment

“Some of it’s been on back order for over a year,” he said. “So it’s just keeping the pipeline and keep things ordered, and it’s not always the right product [arriving], but it is some product.”

Despite the encouraging trends, Visit Florida officials predicted the state’s tourism industry wouldn’t fully recover until 2024.

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, and click here to watch the latest news on your Smart TV.