Hotel bookings soared in Seminole during Ian, tourism officials say – Orlando Sentinel

Despite dropping a historic amount of rain that closed roads and flooded homes, Hurricane Ian led to a surge in hotel bookings in Seminole County last month as it barreled across Central Florida.

County tourism officials announced Wednesday that 80% of the roughly 5,000 hotel rooms in Seminole were booked during the storm on Sept. 28 and in the following days. That’s an increase of 48% compared to the same time in the previous year, and a jump of 23% from the average bookings for the month of September, according to county tourism data.

“Our hotel numbers steadily increased during the storm,” said Gui Cunha, administrator for Seminole’s office of economic development and tourism.

He cited several factors for the increase, including utility workers coming in from outside the area to help with storm recovery, people fleeing the hurricane’s path, and local residents anticipating power outages “wanting to stay at a facility that had generators.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, county officials also reported that 41 roads remained closed due to flooding. Those thoroughfares are primarily in the Geneva area along the St. Johns River in east Seminole, said Alan Harris, director of Seminole’s office for emergency management.

Harris also repeated the county’s urging to property owners with private wells to test their drinking water for bacteria and other harmful organisms due to flooding.

To date, the state’s Department of Health in Seminole has tested 196 private wells in Seminole and “29% of those have come back with some type of contamination issue,” Harris said. “Test those wells to make sure that you and your family stay healthy.”

Residents can request a free test by calling 407-665-0000.

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County officials also announced that waste crews have collected about 40% of the total yard and construction debris left by the storm.

“We’re not seeing as much yard debris as we did after Hurricane Irma [in September 2017],” Harris said. “But because the flooding from Ian was historic, we’re seeing more construction debris.”

Regarding tourism data, county officials estimate that Seminole will have collected a record $6.2 million in tourist tax revenue for last fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30.

Seminole’s tourist development tax is a 5% charge — or 5 cents for every dollar — tacked on to the bill for every night spent in a hotel or a rental stay of six months or less. It’s in addition to the county’s sales tax of 7%.

“We have seen month-over-month records this year in hotel occupancy,” said Cunha, noting that Seminole’s major sports tourism destinations, such as the Boombah Sports Complex in Lake Mary, and other athletic facilities had minimal damage from Hurricane Ian.

“This fiscal year [which started Oct. 1], we had over 70 tournaments equating to over $50 million in economic impact for Seminole County,” he said.

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