Tourism leaders keep eye on rebounding visitor numbers
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
Tourism leaders are focusing on the resurgence this year in the number of people visiting Florida, as the state continues grappling with a spike in COVID-19 cases.
In a brief conference call last Monday, industry leaders praised Visit Florida’s marketing efforts during the past year, after the pandemic caused a dramatic decline in tourists in 2020.
“We probably should not even talk about 2020,” Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said while outlining a 223.4 percent improvement in visitors during the second quarter of 2021 compared to the second quarter last year.
Young told members of the tourism-marketing agency’s Executive Committee the focus should be on a 6 percent increase in domestic visitors from April 1 through June 30, compared to the same period in 2019 — a year of record-setting tourism.
“You all know that we have absolutely no intention of slowing down,” Young said. “In fact, we are hitting the accelerator as we move forward into our upcoming campaign. So, while domestic travel has been our primary focus, as we’ve come out of the pandemic, we are looking forward to going global as soon as it is humanly possible.”
Officials last Monday did not mention that Florida in recent weeks have become one of the hottest spots for COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. Also, the state has received negative media attention for water-quality problems, including a red-tide outbreak in the Tampa Bay area that has led to a massive fish kill.
Instead, discussion centered on the “robust” second-quarter report following the “2020 COVID debacle.”
Visit Florida board Chairman Danny Gaekwad, the owner of MGM Hotels, said hotels are seeing the results of “keeping open” such things as the tourism-marketing agency.
“We are enjoying the fruits of it on a hotel occupancy at this moment” Gaekwad said. “I think the water properties are doing phenomenal business compared to a little town, like Ocala and Gainesville, which are not on the water.”
The state attracted 31.7 million domestic and international visitors in the second quarter of 2021, 2.2 percent below where the state was in 2019. More than 96 percent of the travelers were from other parts of the United States.
Florida’s second quarter numbers showed 1.115 million overseas travelers and an estimated 15,000 Canadian visitors. Two years ago, Florida drew 2.646 million overseas travelers and 930,000 Canadians.
Visit Florida received $50 million from the state for marketing in the current fiscal year, the same as in fiscal year 2020-2021. An additional $25 million in federal pandemic stimulus money is coming through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The tourism-marketing agency’s full board will meet Sept. 8 on the opening day of the three-day 2021 Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood.
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