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As Orlando heals, questions arise over tourism fallout

Orlando International Airport, airport travelers
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The city of Orlando, Florida, has banded together following Saturday night's devastating attack at Pulse nightclub, which left 49 victims dead and dozens more injured.

Yet as residents focused on supporting one another during a state of emergency, experts said the crux of the city's economy — the tourism industry — is unlikely to deliver the state a second blow.

"The travel industry is always having disruptions," said David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council. "In general terms, [it] is incredibly resilient."

Scowsill said in general, when city centers experience isolated acts of violence not aimed directly at tourists, "things go back to normal very quickly." He pointed to the 2005 London transit bombings as an example. In contrast, the tourism industries in Egypt and Tunisia have recently struggled, as they've both suffered from attacks aimed specifically at travelers, Scowsill said.

Paris, where more than 100 people were killed in November, has likewise not been immune to fallout from the recent attacks. Data compiled by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies found that overnight stays among foreign travelers declined 6.3 percent there during the first quarter, as compared with the prior year.

Separate data from the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau found the hotel occupancy rate there fell 6.2 points during the first quarter, to 61.7 percent, compared with the first quarter of 2015 (when the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, took place).

Yet such drops are often short-lived, Scowsill said. Back in 2002, when a nightclub bombing in Bali killed more than 200 people, the tourism industry initially cratered; but it began to recover roughly a year later. Likewise, a spokesman for the Paris tourism bureau said the organization "could feel there was a slow recovery" in the city during the first quarter. Still, he cautioned April is expected to be weak due to the shift of Easter into March and the city's proximity to Brussels, where three coordinated nail bombs went off in April.

Though Scowsill predicts there will be a few weeks of people hesitating before booking a trip to Orlando, he does "not expect a huge amount of cancellations" for already planned trips, he said. That's because law enforcement and the local government quickly and effectively communicated information about the shootings, which were put to a stop when the suspect was killed.

Damian McCabe, CEO of McCabe World Travel, said her firm does not have "any comment beyond that we don't anticipate this sad event effecting tourism to Orlando in the long run."

A spokesman for Delta Airlines said the company has not had a change to its Orlando flight operations since the shooting. At JetBlue Airways, a spokesman did not say whether the airline has seen any cancellations on flights to Orlando, but said it is providing free seats on available flights to and from the area for immediate family and domestic partners of victims who were killed or injured.

A spokesman for Universal Studios, which like CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, said "the safety of our team members and guests is always our top priority — but we do not discuss the specifics of our security plans and procedures."

Walt Disney World said in a statement, "Unfortunately we've all been living in a world of uncertainty, and during this time we have increased our security measures across our properties, adding such visible safeguards as magnetometers, additional canine units, and law enforcement officers on site, as well as less visible systems that employ state-of-the-art security technologies."

The Orlando nightclub attack comes just one month after the city's official tourism association said it set a record for inbound travelers last year. According to Visit Orlando, the Central Florida city received 66.1 million visitors last year, representing a 5.5 percent over the prior year. That also made it the most visited U.S. city for tourists last year.

These visits contributed to record tourist development tax collections in Orange County — home to the region's tourism district — which last year topped $230 million.

The leisure and hospitality industry is the greatest employer for non-agricultural jobs in Orlando, at 20.9 percent, according to the Orlando Economic Development Commission. There are multiple projects underway in the area for new attractions, including the Volcano Bay water park coming to Universal Orlando next year.

Margaritaville Holdings, which is working with Encore Capital Management on a 320-acre, $750 million Orlando community that will include a hotel, vacation ownership and vacation homes when it opens in 2017, said in a statement that it does "not anticipate any connection between what happened this weekend and that project."

"As a company based in Orlando, our attention right now is on helping our employees, friends, family member and neighbors recover from the tragic events of this past weekend," the statement said.

As for the overall state of Florida, tourism spending contributes $89.1 billion to the economy, and accounts for roughly 6 percent of its gross domestic product. The industry employees 1.2 million Floridians.