DeSantis’ gamble: On “Vaccine Passports” and non-domestic tourism

Governor DeSantis’ dug in position in preventing private industry from taking measures to protect their customers in the wake of a pandemic that continues to kill Floridians in great numbers (now over 36,000 dead and growing every day) threatens the long-term health of Florida’s economy.

The Governor’s centralized statist approach – where State Government (led by him), not private industry or local governments closer to the people determines what’s in the best interest of the individual businesses and localities. DeSantis’ approach now faces another major hurdle.

DeSantis’ gamble to reopen Florida paid off as the tourism industry here jump-started over the winter months before much of the rest of the nation was moving about freely. We saw Spring Breakers and other domestic tourists converge on Florida in large numbers, though foreign tourism screeched to a halt not just because of COVID conditions abroad, but because Florida had developed a reputation for cognitive dissonance about the virus, led by a buffoonish Governor.

But all in all, DeSantis’s gamble it must be said did pay off. Florida reopened and irrespective of the wisdom of it from a public health perspective, the economy has largely recovered. Florida’s beaches boomed particularly along the western Panhandle which is experiencing a major economic uptick since November. But challenges remain, as Florida’s tourist industry is not just about attracting beach goers.

Personally, I will admit I became in early 2021, even more sheltered during than during the 2020 Spring lockdown until I was fully vaccinated. Only once I was fully vaccinated did I start venturing beyond my locality or essential work functions.

The last remaining hurdle for DeSantis is getting the foreign tourist industry and cruise lines up and running again. However, my sense is the Governor’s public rhetoric and the seeming indifference of many if not most Floridians to public health and safety guidelines might make this impossible.

The reputation of this state has taken a nasty tumble in the eyes of many abroad, the types that previously vacationed in this state. Canadians in particular seem less enamored with Florida than before and I have seen a similar tone among many in Britain. Across Europe, Florida has developed a reputation as a cavalier place with little regard for public health and an unhealthy obsession with guns. Florida’s beaches and amusement parks as well as natural ecosystem remains a draw for tourists – however I sense we won’t see 2019 tourism levels from abroad again anytime soon.

Cruise ships provide another challenge for the Governor. Given the backlash the industry faced at the outset of the global COVID crisis, it would irresponsible as well as morally and legally questionable for cruise companies to play by Florida’s “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy on vaccinations. But DeSantis seems determined to push this battle to the brink. The assumptions are that most cruise lines need Florid’s deep-water ports and the extensive infrastructure they contain to run at full capacity.

However, it is possible the experience with DeSantis on COVID will lead the cruise industry to seek the right infrastructure in foreign ports in the future – leading a long-term shift in tourists away from east coast destinations in Florida to Caribbean islands and other ports of call where cruises will leave from.

Time will tell if DeSantis’ continued obstinace and gambles end up costing Florida it’s once diverse tourism portfolio.

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