By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – South Florida’s tourism economy has been ravaged by COVID-19.

“The economic impact of this pandemic is devastating for this county,” said Scott Berman, who tracks South Florida tourism trends for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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As we’ve seen continuing and growing long lines at food distributions, a good percentage of the recipients are service workers linked to the industry.

A key indicator of how many people are staying in hotels is to look at the number of ‘heads in beds’ and the amount of tourist tax dollars they generate. A larger dollar amount means lots of tourists, a lower number means economic trouble.

“We’ve seen a lot less heads in beds and travelers coming to our market,” said Berman.

The drop in percentage year to year says it all.

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In September 2020 tourist tax dollars were down 47 percent compared year over year. In October they were down almost 50 percent, November was down by 51.5 percent and December saw an even larger drop – 57 percent.

“We lost Art Basel this year and that speaks to getting off to a rough start,” said Berman.

Also, a number of art events, boat shows, and music festivals were all postponed until next year.

Add to that the cruise industry that has suspended sailings. When will they return remains in question, but more than a few major operators are pushing back their schedules to May, June, and even later.

“The cruise industry is so important to the leisure demands for hotels across South Florida,” said Berman.

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Tourism officials say there is a huge pent-up demand for travel and those numbers will improve. The question, however, is when.