THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 17, 2012 -
Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
Buoyed by relatively strong economies, especially in Latin America, overseas tourists flocked to Florida in recent months, with the number of foreign visitors jumping by 10 percent for the quarter ending June 30.
The year-to-year increase in overseas visitors came atop steady domestic travel numbers, a combination Florida's top tourism official said has put the state on track for a banner year
"In general, we're on pace for a record year," said Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, "Last year was a record year, and it looks like, given the first two quarters, that we are on pace to break that record. "
An estimated 2.4 million overseas tourists paid Florida a visit during the three-month period. Many of those came from Central and South American countries, which have posted strong economic performances over the past few years.
While European economies have been stymied by financial uncertainty, Florida's neighbors have not.
"While we've been struggling financially here in the U.S., their economies have been in pretty good shape," Thompson said.
In addition, 18.8 million domestic visitors came to Florida during the quarter, a 0.3 percent increase that industry representatives said is a reflection of a more optimistic U.S. consumer.
"People are ready to travel again," Thompson said. "The last couple years have been real tough and I think people are ready to get back to doing some of the things they used to do."
In all, Florida enjoyed a 1.3 percentage-point uptick in the number of visitors in April, May and June, compared to the second quarter of 2011. Tourism officials say the increase has translated into jobs.
Travel sector employment in Florida rose 1.1 percent to 1,041,900, up 11,300 jobs from the same period a year ago.
"Increased visitation and spending by travelers to the state have fueled 27 straight months of job growth," said Glenn Hastings, chairman of the Visit Florida Board of Directors, in a statement."
Taxable sales for Florida from January through May, the last month for which data were available, totaled $31.5 billion, a year-over-year increase of 8.8 percent.
Regionally, the tourism and recreation sector posted hefty gains in May, the latest month for which detailed figures have been compiled. Tourism-related economic activity jumped 10.5 percent in Miami. The Lakeland Winter Haven area saw a 17 percent increase from the year before. Panama City was up 15 percent
The Orlando/Kissimmee area, the state's largest tourist destination, grew by 4.4 percent year-to-year, with taxable sales totaling $1.4 billion for the month.
"When we see an increase in tourism numbers, it is encouraging to know that we are inching toward where the industry was prior to not only the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, but the national recession," said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, in an email.