How vital are vacation home rentals to the local economy?

Osceola County has been called “The Vacation Home Capital of the World” — Experience Kissimmee shows that term trademarked, noting, “Kissimmee has the largest collection of vacation home rentals in the world, with more than 50,000 options out of its 70,000 accommodations.”

Yet that segment of the economy remains closed even though others have been allowed to open under Phase I of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “slow, safe and step-by-step” plan to re-open Florida’s economy.

Keeping them closed will not help Osceola County, since vacation home rentals represent about half of its Tourist Development Tax dollars, filling dwellings from two-bedroom condos to luxurious 15-bedroom mansions. They’re often rented out in full to families or groups attending events like family reunions and booked for a week or longer.

In defending the order to keep vacation rentals shuttered, DeSantis has said it’s to keep large groups from coming to Florida from out-of-town hot spots and reversing the slowdown of coronavirus cases here.

Hotels were considered an essential business industry and  not forced to close during the state’s shutdown. But since most travel was discouraged or banned and occupancy dropped to near 0 percent at some places, one local hotel industry executive said nearly three-quarters of Osceola County properties have temporarily closed, and nearly all have closed off portions of  properties.

The local vacation home industry has an advocate, at least regionally. John Newstreet, the president of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, sits on both an Osceola “get back to work board”, and the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.

His signature, along with those of the County Commission, State Rep. Mike La Rosa and Experience Kissimmee CEO D.T. Minich, appeared on a letter the county sent to Tallahassee last week imploring DeSantis to allow vacation rentals to reopen.

“I would like to see the industry opened, even if it’s done geographically or regionally,” he said. “Here, they are our lifeblood.”