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Study: Red tide costs Florida tourism economy billions

People may think hurricanes, storms for the cost to tourism but red tide's impact on keeping people off beaches also adds up
Posted at 5:24 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 17:24:42-05

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — In recent weeks, two studies came out looking at economic impacts of red tide.

A joint study released last month by SCCF, Captains for Clean Water and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida estimated if a bloom similar to the 2018 super bloom happened again it would cost the local economy billions. That study has now been backed up by a similar study by University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

UCF natural resource economist, Dr. Sergio Alvarez, used county tax collections to look at how the 2018 red tide in Florida impacted tourism.

“We expected the impacts to be big,” said Dr. Alvarez. “But we honestly were surprised.”

Dr. Alvarez and team found the state lost 2.7 billion dollars in tourism dollars in 2018 alone.

“Traditionally we look at billion-dollar disasters as things like hurricanes, wildfires, things that will destroy a lot of property,” said Dr. Alvarez. “Red tide is different, because red tide doesn’t really destroy property, but it definitely destroys this business opportunity.”

While big losses in Southwest Florida were not at all surprising, the study found similar losses in Southeast Florida.

“They experienced the red tide in 2018, not for as long of a period as in Southwest Florida, but because of the tourism economy in Southeast Florida, you know Miami, Broward, Palm Beach, they have big, big tourism economies,” said Dr. Alvarez.

The study found both coasts each lost at least a billion dollars. But to Dr. Alvarez’s surprise, the industry saw greater impacts to tourism dollars when red tide levels were beginning compared to their peaks.

“So there seems to be this information effect, where when the red tide begins people go ahead and cancel their reservations, make alternate plans,” said Dr. Alvarez.

Dr. Alvarez says that studies like this enforce the need to spend money up front in solving water quality issues -- to avoid cleaning them up later.

Dr. Alvarez tells me that he is looking into expand his research to include red tide after Hurricane Ian as well as looking into if different industries like the amusement parks in Orlando see more visitors when red tide was the most intense, as visitors stayed out of the water -- to spend their vacation... And their money... On dry land.