Barely a month ago, Florida proudly announced a record-setting number of visitors to the Sunshine State – more than 60 million tourists coming to enjoy its theme parks, beaches and other attractions since January.

According to The Guardian, now, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, tourism is facing a major challenge. The devastation caused by one of history’s largest storms, especially in the popular Florida Keys, is a direct strike at the $90 billion industry that fuels the state’s economic engine, with the harm caused incalculable, experts say, at least in the short term.

“Anything that happens to our tourism industry impacts the state of Florida in a huge way,” said Kevin Murphy, chair of the Rosen college of hospitality management at the University of Central Florida, speaking before the White House announced that President Trump will visit the state on Thursday (Sept. 14).

Murphy said, “It’s like a ripple effect. It’s like dropping not a pebble but a large rock in a pond with the ripples going out. That’s what it does to our economy.

“Disney, Universal, all the big parks, they’ll survive just fine,” he continued. “It’s all of the smaller tour operators, the people that make their living on taxi rides, gator boat rides, they’re really going to be hurt. Since our economy is built on small businesses, there’ll be a huge impact, the housekeepers, all those people living paycheck to paycheck. For them this is devastating.”

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