Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that tourism has bounced back after a year of economic dislocation resulting from the pandemic.
“In 2020, the experts thought Florida’s economy would be among the most impacted in the nation because of how important tourism is to our state; instead, we are setting the pace for job creation and visitation in the U.S.,” DeSantis said. “We have been able to set these records because in Florida we kept businesses open and made sure Floridians could keep working. In just fifteen months, Florida’s visitation numbers have surpassed past pre-pandemic levels, helping drive revenue, job growth, and economic activity to all 67 counties in our state.”
The numbers provided by the Governor’s Office back up DeSantis’ optimistic read.
Domestic travel is up 7% compared to 2019, with 31.2 million Americans coming to Florida in Q3. Meanwhile, 1.2 million traveled to Florida internationally in the same quarter.
The Governor’s Office also notes the surge in tourism validates VISIT Florida marketing efforts, which pushed tourism marketing even amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“Since launching in August 2020, VISIT FLORIDA’s in-state, drive market, and domestic marketing campaigns have yielded consistent growth for Florida tourism and the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. While tourism in other states was completely paused, Florida was the only state marketing outside its borders for seven months, seeing steady growth in visitor volume each quarter. As a result, Florida is driving the recovery of the U.S. travel industry and has cultivated a strategic advantage that will continue to attract visitors in the future,” asserts a media release from the Governor’s Office.
VISIT FLORIDA CEO Dana Young agrees.
“VISIT FLORIDA and its tourism partners around the state continued to deliver outstanding results for Florida tourism in Q3 2021, with total visitation surpassing 2019’s for the first time since the pandemic began,” Young said. “Though the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic may continue to pose challenges, the steps we have taken as an industry and as a state have put us in the best possible position to overcome anything that comes our way. Looking ahead, VISIT FLORIDA will only be hitting the accelerator as we reenter the global travel arena and the lucrative winter travel season.”
The optimism comes as VISIT FLORIDA’s fate will, yet again, be a matter of debate in the Legislature. Sen. Ed Hooper is carrying legislation that would ensure the agency does not sunset until 2031, a huge jump from the current 2023.
If that bill were to pass, it would ensure that the once regular debates about whether the state even needed tourism marketing might end.
In recent years, the House was reluctant to extend the state’s tourism marketing arm. The Legislature has been keeping VISIT FLORIDA on a rolling, two-year lifespan, grudgingly moving the sunset clause forward each year, for several years, since scandals in the mid-2010s gave the agency a reputation for out-of-control slush-fund spending and a lack of accountability. Former House Speakers Jose Oliva and Richard Corcoran particularly disliked the agency.
Florida Politics reporters Renzo Downey, A.G. Gancarski, and Scott Powers contributed to this post.