Despite problems for Florida’s tourism marketing agency in recent months, the state’s tourism industry appears to be weathering the storm.
Tourism numbers released by Visit Florida Tuesday morning show through the first six months of this year, 60.7 million tourists came to Florida. That’s an increase of 4.1 percent over the first half of 2016 and represents the highest six month period in state history.
“I am proud to announce today that Florida has continued its record breaking success by welcoming more than 60 million visitors to our state over the first half of 2017- the highest number of visitors of any six months in our state’s history,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “This means back-to-back record quarters for our state.”
Florida hosted 31.1 visitors in the first quarter of 2017 and 29.9 million in the second quarter of this year. Those were both record increases.
Estimates from Visit Florida indicate that of the more than 60 million tourists in the first half of the year, 53.2 million were domestic visitors, 5.3 million were overseas visitors and 2.2 million were Canadian visitors. The number of overseas and Canadian tourists are down slightly from a year ago.
The latest tourism numbers come as Visit Florida regroups from an effort by some legislative leaders to gut the agency’s budget.
The dispute left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the tourism marketing agency for months.
The original budget approved by the Legislature in early May reduced funding for Visit Florida by two-thirds. But Scott and legislative leaders worked out a plan to restore Visit Florida’s budget that was approved in a special session in June.
The plan to restore funding to Visit Florida also brought tighter budget controls and more transparency in how the agency spends its money. The added transparency resulted in a number of local tourism boards cutting ties with Visit Florida.
Tourism officials are encouraged by the latest visitor numbers. They are hoping to draw 120 million tourists this year breaking last year’s record number of 112 million
“With more than 60 million visitors to the state so far this year, this is an exciting and historic time for the Florida tourism industry,” said Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson. “VISIT FLORIDA is committed to continuing to create cutting-edge marketing programs for our industry partners of all sizes that showcase the state to visitors and help make Florida the number one vacation destination in the world.”
“Now, with the investments made in VISIT FLORIDA during this year’s Special Legislative Session, we can continue to break records and work toward our goal of 120 million visitors this year,” Scott added.