Florida breaks tourism record for fifth consecutive year
105 million people travel to Sunshine State in 2015, governor says.
Published: Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 10:36 a.m.
Florida welcomed 105 million visitors last year, making 2015 the fifth consecutive year where tourism records were broken.
The new record exceeded the previous high of 98.5 million in 2014 by 6.6 percent, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion arm.
The total number of visitors to the Sunshine State last year exceeded the populations of most of the world’s countries. It was about 3 million more people, for example, than inhabit the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the average number of direct travel-related jobs in 2015 also was a record high, with 1,199,200 Floridians employed in the tourism industry, up 4.7 percent compared with the same period last year.
“Tourism plays an important role in supporting our economy, and we will continue to make strategic investments in the tourism industry to keep Florida on track to becoming first for jobs,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who revealed the preliminary tourist count Thursday at Walt Disney World in Orlando. “With five consecutive record years for tourism, it is time to set our goal even higher, and I look forward to welcoming 115 million visitors to the Sunshine State this year.”
Visit Florida estimates that a record 89.8 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in 2015, reflecting an 8 percent increase from 2014. Estimates also show that 11.2 million overseas visitors and 4 million Canadians came to the Sunshine State last year. The number of people boarding planes at 18 Florida airports during 2015 increased 8.2 percent when compared with the previous year, representing a record 6.1 million more passengers than in 2014.
The state’s success wasn’t a surprise to Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County and a board member for Visit Florida. Once Sarasota County saw that it had reached its own goal of welcoming more than a million visitors in 2015, she suspected the state as a whole would topple its goal.
“It’s nice to know that Sarasota played its part in that goal,” Haley said. “We know that first and foremost for us, a visitor has to be interested in Florida. Then we can make our case that the best place to be is Sarasota.”
The state continues to draw more tourists, but Florida promoters and local agencies have shifted their goals for the future, Haley said. Lately, there’s been a greater emphasis on attracting visitors with a higher spending power and bringing in more tourists during the off season.
Visit Sarasota County, specifically, has focused on attracting sporting events in the late spring, summer and early fall to boost tourism in the slower seasons.“We as a state have shifted our focus,” Haley said. “I think it’s a very important shift.”
Locally, the Baltimore Orioles released an economic impact analysis by Sarasota County government this week suggesting that the team’s activities and presence at the Ed Smith Stadium and Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex generated about $81 million in Southwest Florida in the past year. That figure exceeds the $40 million to $50 million estimate reported by the state of Florida in a 2009 analysis of communities that host Major League Baseball Spring Training. The Orioles’ year-round presence, job creation, economic activity, commerce and direct club spending also contributed substantially to the results.
Five years of record-setting visitation does not happen by accident, said Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe, who credited the success to the agency’s global marketing strategy that focused on maximizing the economic impact of Florida tourism.
The collaboration with destination marketing organizations and the money the state has continued to pump into Visit Florida has made all the difference, said Elliott Falcione, executive director for Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“You’ve got to thank the Legislature and the governor for believing in Visit Florida,” Falcione said. “It’s now proven four years in a row that as the budget increases that visitation increase.”
In pushing to continue the increases, Scott has asked lawmakers to set aside $79.3 million for Visit Florida in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The funding would be an increase of $6 million from the current year. The House and Senate have each budgeted $80 million for Visit Florida. Of that money, the House has proposed that $1.8 million go to a contract with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to craft an in-state tourism campaign. The Senate has pitched $2 million for the marketing contract with the Tallahassee-based hospitality trade association.
Tourism and recreation taxable sales for Florida as a whole increased every month year-over-year from January through November 2015, representing an 8.6 percent increase over the same period in 2014.
The state is aiming to bring in $100 billion in total tourism related spending by 2020.
2015 FLORIDA TOURISM BY THE NUMBERS
Total 2015 Visitors: 105 million, up 6.6%
Total Floridians employed in tourism: 1,199,200, up 4.7%
Domestic visitors: 89.8 million, up 8%
Overseas visitors: 11.2 million
Canadian visitors: 4 million
Number of people boarding planes at 18 Florida airports: 74.3 million, up 8.2%
Taxable sales increase January to November 2015: 8.6%
Average daily room rate increase: 5.9%
Number of rooms sold increase: 4.5%
Average room occupancy rate: 72 percent, up 3.2 percentage points
Source: Visit Florida
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