Spring break—typically some time from the first week of March through the third week of April—is an important time for the Orlando economy, and, in 2021, it might matter even more. Tourism is still the top industry in Orlando, and it accounted for over 20% of the job base pre-pandemic.
Over the past few months, we are seeing some key improving trends. As reported by Orlando International Airport, passenger counts have been steadily rising since last April. While we are still seeing declines versus the same period last year, come April 2021, we will begin to report sharp year-over-year increases in passengers, hotel bookings, and theme park attendance. Leisure travel to Orlando exposes more people to the lifestyle and benefits of living here year-round and ultimately creates future demand for housing.
On a recent webinar with the Greater Orlando Builders Association, a representative from Visit Orlando stated that 2021 will see an increase in all facets of the travel industry compared with 2020. He felt that 2023 will approach pre-pandemic levels in regard to travel, and he anticipates the travel industry will be fully recovered by 2024 and growing above 2019 levels.
Despite pandemic-related job losses, housing demand remains strong. From 2017 to 2019 (latest available Census data), Orlando was the fastest-growing city in Florida.
While Orlando reported modest year-over-year new-home sales growth versus January 2020 (a strong pre-pandemic month), it was one of just four cities in the January 2021 Zonda New Home Pending Sales Index that reported an increase in month-over-month sales. This is an early sign of a strong 2021 “snowbird season”—while typically defined by retirees and second-home buyers who live in Florida for the winter, the strong sales numbers are buoyed by first-time and relocated work-from-home buyers.
Source: Zonda; data is seasonally adjusted and as of December 2020
Our survey data of housing starts (poured slab) and closings (actual occupancy) reflected that 2020 was flat for starts, but closings grew by 1.7% in the Orlando CBSA. Osceola County was the hardest hit by the job losses in the leisure and hospitality sector, and housing starts there fell by 4.3% in 2020. As travel improves in 2021, Osceola County housing activity should follow suit. Our expectation will be for an increase in housing starts and closings for the Orlando CBSA in 2021 as demand continues to run in excess of supply.