The number of visitors to Florida fell by
516,000 in the third quarter, raising fears that the Sunshine State
will register its first year-over-year decrease in tourists since
2001, when the 9/11 attacks sent tourism worldwide into free fall.
marketing organization Visit Florida said that some 20.7 million
visitors came to Florida during July, August and September, down
2.4% from 21.2 million in the third quarter of 2005.
Through the third
quarter, the total number of visitors was 66.8 million, down 0.8%
from 67.4 million during the same period in 2005.
statewide tourism grew nearly 5% for all of 2005 to a record 83.6
million, after a 7% increase in 2004.
in Florida attribute the downturn to fears of a strong hurricane
season (which failed to materialize), increased competition from
domestic and foreign destinations, and a state tourism marketing
budget that can't compare with what other destinations spend to
Any decrease in
tourism is big news in Florida because the state's economy depends
so heavily on visitor spending. Last year, tourism provided $3.7
billion in sales tax revenue and supported close to 1 million jobs.
Overall, tourism is a $62 billion industry in Florida.
spokeswoman Vanessa Welter said increased competition from other
markets and the lingering memory of two destructive hurricane
seasons are primarily to blame for the tourism slide. The third
quarter runs from July to September, which is prime hurricane
Short on advertising cash
Welter, Visit Florida's tourism advertising budget is flat, and the
cost of advertising is rising. She said Florida lags behind Hawaii,
California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and even West Virginia
for public funding to tourism.
Welter said Visit
Florida, stung by the third-quarter results, is embarking on an
"educational campaign" designed to more than double the agency's
public funding from the current $24.6 million. Visit Florida's
tourism advertising budget is $10.8 million, a "paltry figure"
compared with what destinations such as Las Vegas spend, Welter
campaign is officially being called "Florida's Tourism Counts," but
Welter said the agency isn't prepared to discuss its plans to
increase public funding.
regular source of funds is a 15.75% share of the $2 surcharge on
car rentals. Cooperative advertising makes up the remainder of the
Florida has to worry not only about domestic markets that are
spending more on tourism promotion but also about foreign
destinations that are going after Florida's major feeder
example, is spending some $180 million during the next three years
in the U.K. to attract visitors from there," Welter said. By
comparison, Visit Florida spent $1.5 million last year in the U.K.,
which is a major international market for the state, Welter
statistics compiled by Visit Florida, repeat visitors, who have
traditionally been a solid segment for Florida, are taking more
time in between visits to the state, a factor Welter attributed to
a lack of advertising.
A look around the
state shows that although some destinations are experiencing a
slump in arrivals, others are actually up.
On the down side,
Orlando, home to king-size theme parks Disney World, SeaWorld and
Universal Studios, is experiencing a decline in
Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotel occupancy, Orlando
recorded double-digit declines in hotel occupancy in September and
October, whereas the average cost for a room there rose 9% to just
over $100 a night.
But one Florida
destination that is bucking the downward trend is Miami, which saw
visitor numbers rise by 2.8% in the third quarter to 2.4 million
visitors, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors
For all of
surrounding Miami-Dade County, the increase included a 3.8% jump in
international arrivals and a 1.9% rise in domestic
For the entire
nine months, Miami-area visitor numbers totaled 8.6 million, up
2.8% year over year, with domestic and international visitors
registering increases. Hotel occupancy in Miami was up 4% in
October, according to Smith.
downturn through the third quarter, tourism officials said that
2006 could still outperform last year. This is possible because
much of South Florida's tourism industry ground to a halt in 2005
following Hurricane Wilma's visit in October.
Florida welcomed 16.2 million tourists from October to December.
Welter said it is too soon to predict this year's fourth-quarter
To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].