Under a bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s tourism-marketing agency has been granted another five years of life. The measure (SB 434) extends the authorization of Visit Florida from Oct. 1, 2023, to Oct. 1, 2028. At the same time, tourism data shows that Florida is back on track, and poised for a surge this summer.
Last week, SeaWorld, which operates not only SeaWorld Orlando but also Busch Gardens in Tampa, reported increased attendance so far in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels, despite the fact that international travel to its U.S. locations remains suppressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the company also noted its main attractions in other states like California and Virginia were severely hampered by COVID-19 restrictions. Despite those challenges, SeaWorld said attendance was 1.9% higher than 2019, the last full year before the pandemic began.
The travel insurance company Allianz reported that Orlando remains the top domestic summer travel destination in America, edging out Seattle, Washington, a pair of Hawaiian Island destinations, New York City, L.A., Boston and others, according to an analysis of 2022 flight itineraries for summer travel months.
Other Florida destinations are also reporting record surges in attendance. The Space Coast, for example, reported it’s “best ever” month of tourist tax collections in March, and with more tourists likely to hit Space Coast beaches and trying to catch one of Florida’s rapidly growing number of rocket launches this year, those numbers are likely to surge even higher over the summer.
Back in Tallahassee this past spring, the Senate had pushed to extend the Visit Florida “sunset” date to Oct. 1, 2031, but some House leaders questioned past spending by the agency and whether Florida really needed to spend millions of tax dollars on controversial marketing campaigns when the state has so many natural attractions and theme parks, many of which are already spending millions on marketing.
The agency has a proposed budget of about $50 million, but the Legislature has not yet sent the budget to DeSantis, who could still veto certain line items that impact Visit Florida, which is also scheduled to receive about $30 million in federal stimulus funds.