(The Center Square) – Florida drew 79.75 million visitors during pandemic-skewered 2020, a 39.3% drop from the 131.4 million who visited the Sunshine State in 2019 and the lowest number in a decade, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.
In data released last week, Visit Florida charts how the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the state’s $90 million hospitality/tourist industry beginning mid-March 2020 and how it plans to assist in its recovery with a $50 million marketing plan expands beyond the East Coast to include West Coast., Mexico and England markets this summer.
According to Visit Florida, 30.4 million tourists visited Florida during the first quarter of 2020, Jan. 1 to March 31. COVID-19 emerged in Florida in mid-March.
The pandemic’s impacts were dramatically felt during 2020’s second quarter, April 1-June 30, when the number of visitors fell to 9.92 million, a 69.4% drop from 2019, before increasing to 20.33 million in the third quarter and 19.096 million in the fourth quarter.
Florida drew 26.16 million visitors from Jan. 1 to March 31 this year — a noticeable and sustained uptick from the previous three quarters but still 14% below 2020’s 30.4 million first-quarter visitors.
With more people getting vaccinated and pandemic protocols being scaled back, the travel industry anticipates a surge in travel, especially domestically, this summer.
Visit Florida President/CEO Dana Young told the agency’s executive committee Tuesday that marketing over the last year has targeted East Coast regions easily drivable to Florida, but a proposed $50 million plan that goes before the panel on June 8 expands efforts to include California, Oregon and Washington markets.
Young said Visit Florida also plans to send representatives to Mexico in June and England in July or August.
“Those trips are to further cement our existing relationships with our in-country trade and to build on some new strategic relationships with airlines and other trade partnerships in those countries,” she said.
According to Visit Florida, overseas travel plummeted by 70.4% in 2020 compared to 2019.
During the first quarter of 2021, 564,000 of the 26.16 million who visited the state were from overseas, a decline of 74.4% from the same three-month period the year before, but an increase from the previous three quarters.
“Overseas visitation numbers, while small, are still encouraging,” Young said. “And Florida is significantly outperforming the rest of the U.S. among international travelers. Though many of the borders remain close, we are seeing growing visitation from some Latin American markets, particularly Colombia and Mexico.”
The primary absence were Canadians. Every year, an estimated 1 million Canadians spend up to six months wintering in the Sunshine State, contributing an estimated $6.5 billion to Florida’s economy.
Canadian travel for the first quarter of 2021 was down 97.2% from 2019 with only 34,000 Canadians visiting between Jan. 1 and March 31. The scenario is unlikely to change until the Canadian government lifts its ban on “non-essential” cross-border traffic.
Although overall first-quarter visitor numbers were down 14% percent over 2019’s first quarter, much of which was unaffected by the pandemic, the number of domestic visitors was only down by 5.3%.
The data points to a full rebound for Florida’s tourist industry before the 2023-24 projection issued by state economists in March, Young said.
“Our goal is to beat that,” she said. “And we believe that the numbers that we’re starting to see and the data that we’re seeing, and the trends that we’re seeing, could have us solidly on track to do so.”