Despite the tragedy of the Pulse nightclub attack and hurdles that included a hurricane and the Zika virus, 112.8 million tourists visited the Sunshine State in 2016, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday.
That’s 5.9 percent higher than last year and the sixth-consecutive record year for Florida.
“That doesn’t happen by accident,” said Scott. “ … We have to keep marketing our state.”
Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, said Florida’s 2016 numbers continue to make it stand out from all other tourist destinations in the country. Dow, a Florida resident, attributed part of the state’s success to the ease of getting here and the continue expansion of air service into major airports.
“Florida has become the darling for the travel industry around not only the U.S., but around the world,” Dow said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Tourists spent an estimated $109 billion last year, up from $108.8 billion the year before, Scott said. He added that tourism jobs in the state also hit a record high in 2016, with 1.4 million jobs up from the 1.2 million in 2015.
Scott said he would continue his fight to preserve Visit Florida, a private-public state agency that promotes travel. Legislators have introduced a bill that would cut the agency and Enterprise Florida, which entices companies to bring jobs to the state and offers other incentive programs. Visit Florida recently came under fire for lack of transparency after the details of a $1 million contract with Miami singer Pitbull were released.
Randy Johnson, whose mother owns the 43-year-old restaurant The Catfish Place in St. Cloud, said Visit Florida’s marketing has a ripple effect on the lunchtime rush.
He said local air boat companies get marketing support from Visit Florida and then recommend the family restaurant to clients.
“Every day, we get groups of people off those air boats that are coming from Visit Florida,” Johnson said.
Tourism estimates tracked by Visit Florida include international and out-of-state tourists. A record 98 million domestic visitors came to Florida last year, a 7.3 percent increase over 2015. International visitors totaled 14.8 million, with 11.1 million coming from overseas and 3.7 million Canadians coming to Florida, according to Visit Florida. Scott announced the numbers Thursday at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne.
“Six years of record-setting visitation would not be possible without a strong global marketing strategy focused on maximizing the economic impact of Florida tourism,” said Ken Lawson, Visit Florida’s president and chief executive officer, in a release.
Visit Orlando, which includes Floridian visitors from outside Metro Orlando, along with out-of-state and international travelers, in the numbers it tracks, announced last year that 66 million tourists came to Central Florida in 2015. Central Florida’s 2016 tourism figures are expected to be released in May. Key metrics that have been released show Orlando might have ended the year relatively flat compared to 2015.
Some of Metro Orlando’s largest attractions have recently reported decreased attendance figures. Hotel demand and occupancy rates dipped slightly for the year. In a second-quarter earnings call last year, Joel Manby, SeaWorld Entertainment’s chief executive officer, described the softening Orlando tourism market and a drop in international tourists as a “Florida problem” and said the slowdown was statewide.
“While some individual metrics have varied, on an overall level we anticipate 2016 will be a strong year for Orlando,” when those numbers are tabulated, Visit Orlando president and chief executive officer George Aguel said in a statement. “From a statewide tourism perspective, historically Orlando has always been a very significant contributor to Florida’s overall success, and we are confident that will remain the same for 2016.”
Tourist development taxes, a fee collected on short-term rentals in the area, were up about 4.5 percent for the year, according to the Orange County Comptroller’s Office.