Tourism may suffer serious damage in Florida after a seven-to-eight-foot alligator dragged a two-year-old toddler off a Disney World hotel beach as parents furiously fought to save him. The attacked followed just two days after an Orlando terrorist attack.
In the animal tattack, a toddler playing at the water’s edge in front of the five star Disney Grand Floridian Resort & Spa was attacked at about 9:15 p.m. by an up to 450-pound adult alligator.
With parents Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska, relaxing on the sand nearby as the little boy splashed in little puddles, the predator bolted out of the dark water to grasp the screaming child and start dragging him into the Disney Seven Seas Lagoon.
The mother and father rushed into the water to try to pry the child from the beast’s mouth as it backed into the water. But the huge animal pulled the boy deeper in the water and then slipped away with the child. The parents ran to a nearby lifeguard who called 911. Both the mother and father were both treated for hand injuries.
The child, Lane Graves, was found with his body intact about 10-15 feet off-shore in the late afternoon of June 15. He is appeared to have been drowned by the alligator.
Disney said it has closed all beaches in its resort area “out of an abundance of caution,” while over 50 Sheriff’s officers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission searched the Seven Seas Lagoon and adjacent Lake Buena Vista.
Meanwhile, licensed trappers have removed 5 adult alligators from the Disney lagoon.
With Florida’s huge summer tourist season just cranking, the combination of two tragedies is expected to have a devastating impact on Florida’s economy.
About 13 percent of Florida jobs are powered by tourism, which is the state’s top industry. With a record 100 million annual visitors expected in 2016, tourism-related employment has grown to 1,251,600 from about 860,000 over the last six years.
Florida’s state government is very reliant on the tourism industry, which generated 23 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue in 2015.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida’s unemployment rate, which soared to 11.4 percent during the Great Recession, has declined impressively to 5.6 percent. The most important driver of that growth has come from 77 consecutive months of tourism industry growth.
2016 was off to a great start for hotels, as Florida room revenue was up 3.0 percent, revenue per available room was up 1.5 percent and average daily room rate was up 3.1 percent over the prior year. Due to the strong momentum, Florida tourism-related employment hit 14.8 percent of total non-agricultural jobs, and 1 in 6 new jobs has been in tourism.
With its 29 electoral votes, Florida is considered the most important of the 11 swing states in the 2016 presidential election. With the state highly optimistic about the tourist season before the dual tragedies, Hillary Clinton had been leading Donald Trump by 1.6 percent in the Real Clear Politics Consensus Poll.
But a small reduction in Florida tourist bookings could have a disproportionately large political impact.