Florida welcomed 22.9 million visitors during the third quarter, setting a record for the period, according to preliminary figures released by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism bureau.
The record-breaking quarter puts the Sunshine State on course to set a record for annual visitors, as well, according to officials. So far this year, 72.6 million visitors have come to Florida, an increase of 3.4% over the same period last year.
The vast majority of visitors were from the U.S., but Florida welcomed 2.9 million overseas visitors during the third quarter.
“So far this year, we’re up nearly 2.5 million visitors, who increased spending by almost $3 billion, led by a double-digit increase in international visitors,” Tammy Gustafson, chairwoman of the Visit Florida board of directors, said in a statement.
While Canadians continue to flock to Florida, many other international visitors are also increasing their trips. Tourism industry leaders and analysts agree that strong marketing and a constant evolution of new hotels, attractions and places to visit encourage more visitors, domestically and internationally, to return each year.
“Tourism is very much tied to the economy. The fact that the industry is constantly changing and evolving with new gadgets, products and attractions helps, along with strong marketing to international markets,” said Robertico Croes, Tourism, Events and Attractions Department chair at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
Many come from South America, with the largest concentration from Brazil, and China, where robust economies and favorable exchange rates exist.
In 2012, almost 3.8 million visitors from South America came to Florida, an increase of 27% from the previous year. Brazilians flocked to Florida in record numbers, with 1.7 million visitors in 2012. Almost 36% of arrivals from Brazil traveled to Orlando, according to the U.S. International Trade Association.
Chinese visitors are also increasing their visits to Florida, with 202,000 visitors reported in 2012. That’s a 32% increase over 2011.
“South America has an affinity with Florida (culture, lifestyle, traditions). The other emerging market is China, where the middle class is increasing. China will continue to emerge in 2014,” said Croes.
Visit Florida estimates South Americans spent over $4.2 billion, with Brazilians spending $2.1 billion. Figures estimate Chinese visitors spent $177 million in 2012.
Gov. Rick Scott said the surge in tourism and tourist dollars equates to better economics for full-time residents, something he has championed as part of his re-election campaign.
“Because every 85 visitors to our state support one Florida job, a growing tourism industry equates to more jobs for Florida families and a stronger economy,” he said in a statement.
Industry leaders couldn’t agree more.
“Record visitor numbers equate to record visitor spending,” said Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida. “With taxable sales up, occupancy rates up, car rentals up, bed taxes up and average daily room rates up, Florida’s tourism industry has never been stronger.”
If estimates hold true, tourism leaders expect the remainder of 2013 to set a record, as well.
“We hope to reach 100 million visitors in the next few years,” said Kathy Torian, corporate communications manager for Visit Florida, who added that early indications point to another strong showing in the fourth quarter, which could cap off a record year for Sunshine State tourism.
“This continued momentum is a testament to the strength of Visit Florida’s marketing efforts, the power of the Sunshine State brand and the dedication of the nearly 1.1 million Floridians who work in the state’s tourism industry,” added Gustafson, the Visit Florida chair.
Katherine Ferrara Johnson is the new Florida e-newsletter editor for Travel Weekly. A multimedia journalist, former television producer and freelance writer who has lived in Florida long enough to be called a native, Johnson's writing has focused on tourism, real estate and other business-related topics. Her work has apperared in Housing Wire, Rollins College magazine, Orlando magazine, Where Orlando, Orlando Homebuyer and Airtran’s Go, covering tourism, real estate and business. When she’s not on deadline, you can find her visiting one of her favorite beach resorts or discovering one of the Orlando area's newest restaurants.