Florida drew record numbers of tourists in the first three months of 2022, surpassing totals from similar quarters before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the hospitality and leisure industry.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, released information on Friday showing that 35.98 million people visited the state between early January and late March.
With tourism being a key driver of the state’s economy, it was 39.6% higher than in the first quarter of 2021, at a time when COVID-19 vaccines were becoming more widely available. It was also 19.29% from the first quarter of 2020, when the virus hit the state.
More importantly for tourism officials, the new total was up 1.35% from the first quarter of 2019, before the pandemic began.
“I can tell you by seeing all the cars on the road, I think there are still a lot more people coming to visit Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a May 4 news conference at the Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill in Clearwater.
As has been the case since the start of the pandemic, the vast majority of people traveling to Florida – 95% – in the first three months of the year were from other states.
After DeSantis hinted at record domestic tourism during the May 4 appearance, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young credited the DeSantis-led push to reopen businesses months after the initial hit. of the pandemic.
“The ability to be in the market for almost seven months … where no other state was doing anything outside of its borders helped us create an incredible strategic advantage for the State of Florida,” said Young.
Florida has now had four consecutive quarters attracting over 30 million visitors. It also posted three consecutive quarters with numbers surpassing the same periods in 2019, when the state handled a record 131.07 million tourists.
Even with the increases in the first quarter of this year, the state only attracted 1.32 million visitors from overseas and 578,000 from Canada.
In the first quarter of 2019, the state welcomed 2.28 million overseas travelers and 1.45 million Canadians.
The number of overseas travelers fell to 1.76 million in the first quarter of 2020 as businesses and borders began to close. With virus restrictions hampering most international travel in 2021, the first quarter total fell to 492,000.
After attracting nearly 1.45 million Canadians in the first quarter of 2019, the numbers fell to 1.25 million in the first quarter of 2020 and 55,000 in the same period of 2021.
COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by Canada have also made Colombia the number one country of origin for international travelers in the year 2021.
Visit Florida recorded 709,000 visitors in 2021 from the South American country, representing 15.3% of international travelers coming to Florida. Canada was next with 584,000 visitors for the year, followed by Mexico with 389,000 and Peru with 261,000.
In 2019, 4.09 million Canadians came to Florida, representing 29.4% of the state’s tourists. The United Kingdom is second with 9.6%, with 1.33 million visitors. Colombia placed fifth behind Brazil and Argentina.
Florida lawmakers passed a proposed budget in March that includes $50 million to fund Visit Florida’s tourism marketing efforts in the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year. The agency received $80 million for the current fiscal year, including $30 million in federal stimulus funds. Lawmakers have not formally sent the 2022-23 spending plan to DeSantis, who has veto power.
Last Friday, DeSantis signed into law a measure (SB 434) that extends Visit Florida’s authorization from October 1, 2023 to October 1, 2028.
Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.