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Orlando struggles as tourists stay home

Tourist spending in Florida is down from $55 million a day to $35 million since the September 11 terrorist attacks.  

From John Zarrella
CNN Miami Bureau

ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- Angelo Gonzalez has never seen business this slow.

"I told my friend the other day we're about 12 people away from being a ghost town," said Gonzales, who drives a taxi in Orlando.

"One day I went home with $21, and the next day I went home with $15," he said.

Tourist spending in Florida is down from $55 million a day to $35 million since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In Orlando, which depends heavily on tourist dollars, hotel occupancies are in single digits in some cases. At the theme parks, like Disney World and Sea World, parking lots are empty. That means no lines, no waiting.

U.S. tourism suffers in attacks' aftermath  

Along with a drop-off among vacationers, 250 conventions and meetings have either been canceled or rebooked for later since September 11.

"Disney has furloughed a lot of their part-timers, as have a lot of the hotels. When you don't have banquets, you don't need waiters and waitresses. You don't need cooks, et cetera, so there are cutbacks," said Bill Peeper, president of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Until Americans are again comfortable with flying, Orlando-area tourism officials say they're going to focus their attention on people who can easily drive from neighboring states and other parts of Florida.

At the Pirate's Dinner Adventure, plans are already in place to attract area residents.

"We go to local communities. We approach groups and special discounts for people that live in the Orlando area," said Andres Cibotti, the theater's vice president.

Times are tough in Florida and elsewhere. But Angelo Gonzalez is hopeful.

"Behind every sad story, there's a big smile, and I believe we're going to be smiling at the end of all this."

• Walt Disney World
• Sea World Orlando
• Pirate's Dinner Adventure
• Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau

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