ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County leaders are dealing with the largest drop in tourism tax revenue they've ever seen as the coronavirus pandemic has kept parks and vital economic drivers closed for almost two months.

What You Need To Know

  • Revenue from tourist development tax down 56.5% from March 2019

  • Revenue helps with community projects, bringing large events to Orange County

  • County comptroller said strong reserves will keep debt under control

  • More Orange County stories

Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond said that March 2020 numbers show tourist development tax revenue of $13.6 million, which is down 56.5% compared with March 2019.

In comparison, the county saw a 32% loss in tourism tax revenue after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The tourist development tax goes right into Orange County's economy, helping places such as the Orange County Convention Center bring conventions and thousands of guests into town.

Diamond said it is also tax money used for various projects in our community.

"It's helped to pay for things like the performing arts center, the Citrus Bowl, the Amway Center. It's helping to pay for the Pulse Museum," Diamond said.

Diamond emphasized that the county's strong financial reserves were helping to mitigate the loss of tourist revenue.

"We clearly have enough to pay the debt on the convention center, and I don't think that's going to change," Diamond said.

Tourism-supported business owners concerned

Mazen Hamadeh manages a property close to the Orange County Convention Center. He said business there is 100% tourists.

For Hamadeh, the cost of operation exceeds revenue, so the Arabian Nights restaurant on property is staying closed.

"We survive on dine-in, not on delivery or curbside pickup, so we cannot open with 25 to 50% capacity," Hamadeh said.

He's concerned about the drastic drop in Orange County tourist development tax revenue.

"The longer it takes to return to normal, the more it's going to hurt, and the more businesses going to close permanently," he said.

Hamadeh hopes tourists come back soon so the restaurant on his property can begin to see life again.

"Hopefully we don't end up permanently closing," he said.

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