Orlando tourism not impacted by Omicron variant so far, officials say

ORLANDO, Fla. — Flags, tears and hugs were a common sight at Orlando International Airport Wednesday, as officials welcomed the first flights from Brazil since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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South America’s largest country was Orlando’s third largest international market pre-pandemic, behind Canada and the United Kingdom. The return could bring close to 900,000 additional visitors to Central Florida.

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“The international market contributes a lot of dollars to the community in sales, tourism taxes and in their spending,” Visit Orlando’s Danielle Hollander said. “Also for the Brazilians, in the excitement that they bring to the destination.”

The return of Brazil’s major airlines is a contrast to what’s happening globally: countries, including the United States, partially closing their borders as the world waits for information about the newly discovered Omicron variant.

The variant was first reported in South Africa last week. A case was identified in the United States on Wednesday.

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So far, tourism officials said no one has changed their plans. An Azul Airlines representative said flights were booked up on the airline’s 298-seat plane through January.

“Currently, it is not impacting us,” Hollander said. “We’ll watch and wait like everybody else.”

A severe variant could send countries backwards as they combat hospital crunches. Likewise, a mild variant – even one that infects vaccinated people more easily – is unlikely to change policies dramatically as governments transition from pandemic to endemic.

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More information on Omicron, including the severity of infections and the vaccines’ effectiveness against it, is expected in the next week and a half.

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