Spring arrivals flat, Visit Florida blames high prices

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High gas prices, higher room rates and higher air fares contributed to flat tourism growth for Florida this past spring, according Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.

The latest figures show that approximately 23 million people visited the Sunshine State in the second quarter of this year, less than a 1% increase compared with the same period last year, Visit Florida said. Figures for the third quarter were not available at press time.

Despite the flat numbers, Visit Florida said that tourism for the year is keeping pace with 2005, when a record 85 million people visited the state.

The agency attributed the flat numbers, in part, to record-high gas prices and its impact on the state's traditionally strong drive-in market. Gas prices in many parts of the country surpassed the $3 mark earlier this year.

According to Visit Florida, data collected from the state's 14 largest airports showed a 0.8% increase in enplanements in the second quarter. The agency relies primarily on airport arrival figures for its data.

While visitor numbers remained flat, hotel occupancy was down 2.7% in the first half of the year, reflecting a 9.4% increase in the average daily room rate.

On the bright side, Visit Florida said the percentage of Florida residents traveling within the state rose 12.7% compared with the same period in 2005.

The agency explained that many Floridians who might have otherwise driven their cars and recreational vehicles out of state vacationed in state because of high gas prices.

Visit Florida said the number of Canadian travelers to Florida rose 2.5% in the second quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2005.

South Florida hotels have had a generally strong season, with Miami-Dade County reporting a 3% increase for the year. Hotel revenue in South Florida showed double-digit gains this year compared with 2005.

The news has not been as positive for the Florida Keys, where hotels are reporting a drop in occupancy and revenue. Officials there are blaming damage and bad publicity from Hurricane Wilma last October.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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