STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The economy is now bad enough that even Disney is hurting. The entertainment giant's theme parks near Orlando, Florida, have historically been fairly recession-proof, but not this year. From Member Station WMFE in Orlando, Steve Brown reports.
STEVE BROWN: Disney first came to central Florida in 1971 when it built the Magic Kingdom. Here's a TV commercial from those early days.
(Soundbite of television ad)
Unidentified Child: Oh, pardon me. I'm looking for the Magic Kingdom. Do you know the way?
BROWN: Disney has since added three other theme parks and more than 20 high-end hotels. And with 47 million visitors last year, Walt Disney World is by far the most popular resort in the world. But this year fewer people are finding their way to the Magic Kingdom. Disney's profits dropped sharply last quarter. The company declined a request to enter its parks, but just a few miles away is a place called International Drive.
(Soundbite of traffic)
BROWN: It's tourism gone wild, a 14-mile strip of hotels, restaurants, and gift shops crammed in one after another. But it's not anywhere near as busy as normal. At Bargain World, this massive gift shop is almost empty. Manager Yower Hayder(ph) says it's the worst he's seen in five years.
Mr. YOWER HAYDER (Manager, Bargain World, International Drive, Florida): Lot of employees that, you know, we had to cut hours. And the shifts have already been cut. And normally everybody gets like 40 regular hours, but they've been cut for like 30 and less than 30 hours.
BROWN: Up and down International Drive, of the dozen business owners I surveyed, they all said there just aren't enough tourists. That's troubling for Orlando's massive tourism industry which employees 200,000 people and is worth $31 billion to the local economy. Danielle Courtenay with the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau says hotel occupancy fell 10 percent in September.
Ms. DANIELLE COURTENAY (Vice President of Public Relations, Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau): For the first half of the year, we faired pretty well. We did better than the national average when you talked about occupancy, when you talked about demand for the destination. And we've seen somewhat of a rocky fall.
BROWN: Florida as a whole is suffering too. The number of tourists to the Sunshine State dropped by more than a million people last year. Like many industries in tough times, tourism sees what's called a ladder effect. People still spend. They just go down a rung and spend less.
(Soundbite of theme park attraction)
Unidentified Announcer: Please remain seated until directed to exit.
BROWN: That could benefit places like Fun Spot. It's a smaller amusement park near more expensive attractions like Disney, Sea World, and Universal Studios which charge up to $75. Fun Spot offers free admission and uses a pay-per-ride system. That's a welcome change for Grace Savilla(ph) and her family, since they can't afford trips to places like New York City or overseas.
Ms. GRACE SAVILLA: We definitely cut down on that because of the expenses are too high for us.
BROWN: For a destination city like Orlando, a dip in the tourism sector would trickle down to the rest of the local economy. Abraham Pizam is a tourism expert at the University of Central Florida. An example he uses is toilet paper.
Dr. ABRAHAM PIZAM (Dean, Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida): The more tourists we have here, the more toilet paper is consumed. So the person or the company that sells toilet paper to the hotel is being affected.
BROWN: Pizam says a small slump of six more months would likely not have any lasting effects on tourism giants like Disney or any other local businesses. Still, Disney has done something it's almost never needed to do - offer free hotel nights and food vouchers. For NPR News, I'm Steve Brown in Orlando.
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