No matter how well it performs, VISIT FLORIDA apparently has to beat its chest publicly for every crumb before a skeptical Legislature. It shouldn’t have to, frankly. 

But on Wednesday, there we were again — the state’s tourism arm releasing another year of record figures on the economic impact of visitors to Florida. 

In 2016, the most recent year with completed measures, out-of-state visitor spending in Florida reached a record $112 billion, an increase of 2.7 percent over 2015. Visitors generated $88 billion, or roughly 10 percent, of Florida’s total gross domestic product (GDP), up 4.2 percent over the previous year, and visitors generated $11.6 billion in state and local taxes, up 3.3 percent.

Try to remember, the media spotlight on the Sunshine State was none too kind in 2016. The state suffered the tragedy of the Pulse nightclub attack and hurdles that included a hurricane and the Zika virus. 

Said Gov. Rick Scott, “It is great news that Florida has reached yet another tourism record with an historic $112 billion in visitor spending in 2016. Florida’s tourism industry helps support more than 1.4 million jobs across our state and is a major driver in our growing economy. I look forward to working with the Legislature this session to secure $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA so we can continue to market our state as the top tourism destination in the world.”

Added President & CEO Ken Lawson, “We are continuing to set visitation records in Florida, and new economic indicators show that VISIT FLORIDA’s marketing is working. Thanks to the leadership of the governor and Legislature, we’re continuing to see increases in not just visitation numbers, but economic indicators as well. 

“Visitor spending, gross domestic product and state and local revenue are all up thanks to our success marketing the Sunshine State. We hope to continue building on this success by receiving full funding this upcoming year as we work to make Florida the number-one global destination.”

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 continued expansion of air service into major airports.

“Florida has become the darling for the travel industry around not only the U.S., but the world,” Dow said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders.”

But Scott and his opponents butt heads over what keeps so many visitors coming. Opponents say Florida sells itself; Scott maintains “… We have to keep marketing our state.”

According to VISIT FLORIDA records, in 2016 lodging represented the largest visitor spending sector at $31.8 billion, an increase of 3.3 percent over 2015. Visitor spending growth in the food and beverage sector accounted for $23 billion, growing 4.2 percent, and visitors spent more than $16 billion in recreational activities, accounting for a 3.6 percent increase. 

The study continued to show visitor spending supporting 1.4 million Florida jobs, with an associated income of $53 billion. These jobs represent 17.1 percent of total employment, supporting one out of every six jobs in the state. 

Have a look at the full report, produced by Oxford Economics.

Though Scott turned $25 million into $76 million for VISIT FLORIDA during a three-day special session last year, it’s too early to predict how this office will fare in the governor’s lame-duck year.

 

Reach Nancy Smith at [email protected] or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: NancyLBSmith

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