TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With international travel nearing pre-pandemic levels, Florida is poised to set a record year for tourism.
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Tourism marketing agency Visit Florida on Thursday estimated that 35.066 million people traveled to Florida in the third quarter of 2023, up 1.4 percent from the same period in 2022 and 7.9 percent above the total in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
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The new numbers showed a recovery from a slight decline in the second quarter, which industry leaders attributed to increased competition from other states and countries that have been closed longer than Florida due to the pandemic.
Visit Florida reported that Florida had 105.2 million visitors in the first nine months of the year, up from 104.478 million in the same period in 2022. Florida posted a full-year record of 137.4 million tourists in 2022.
In 2019, Florida attracted 131 million visitors, with 100.267 million coming to the state in the first nine months of the year.
Read: The number of tourists to Florida fell on an annual basis for the first time since the beginning of 2021
Totals for Florida from July to September this year were dominated by visitors from other states. But they were also helped by the federal government’s lifting of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for international travelers on May 11, the same day the public health emergency over COVID-19 ended.
However, international tourism continues to face problems with non-immigrant visa delays due, at least in part, to embassy staff shortages. The US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website on Thursday showed the wait time in London at 110 days, up from 90 days on June 7. Paris was at 200 days, up from 180 days in June. Rio de Janeiro was at 162 days on Thursday, down from 477 days in June.
Read: New bill, if passed, could defund Florida’s Visit Florida tourism corporation
Florida’s tourism industry took a hit in 2020 due to pandemic-related shutdowns. But state officials say early efforts to reopen the economy have led to a faster recovery in tourism in Florida.
“Florida continues to set visitation records because of our commitment to allowing visitors to enjoy their travels without arbitrary government restrictions,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a prepared statement Thursday.
Tourism from other parts of the US accounted for 92 percent of the third-quarter totals, but was slightly below the level of the same period in 2022.
However, overseas and Canadian tourists are showing year-over-year increases – although they are still not at pre-pandemic levels.
Visit Florida estimated that the state had nearly 2.23 million foreign visitors in the third quarter, up from 1.93 million in the third quarter of 2022. In the third quarter of 2019, the total was 2.5 million.
Read: The Visit Florida Plan seeks to strengthen tourism marketing in Florida
Additionally, trips to Canada — traditionally the largest international source country for visitors to Florida — reached 666,000 in the third quarter, surpassing the 561,000 in the third quarter of 2022. For the first nine months of 2023, Florida attracted about 2.8 million Canadians compared to 1.749 million during the same period in 2022.
In 2019, 4.088 million Canadians visited Florida, with 2.997 million in the first nine months of the year and 703,000 in the third quarter.
Pointing to global travel trends, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young called the third-quarter numbers “a new normal with an increased market share of tourism, especially international tourism.”
To combat growing competition from other parts of the U.S., Visit Florida made plans this year to market regions of the state outside of their peak seasons, highlight offbeat tourist destinations and move the start of winter and “family” advertising campaigns.
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The state budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, includes $80 million for Visit Florida, a $30 million increase over last year.
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