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Visit Florida Looks To Boost International Tourism

A Jacksonville sunset is pictured from Riverfront Park in San Marco.

Florida’s tourism-marketing agency is planning international trips as officials work to offset the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the travel industry.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said Tuesday the agency is planning a trip to Mexico in June, with a similar excursion planned to England in July or August, depending on the status of United Kingdom border-crossing requirements.

“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,” Young told members of the Visit Florida board’s Executive Committee.

Additional details about the trips were not immediately available. Visit Florida reported recently that overseas travel was down 74.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 from 2020, after falling 70.4 percent for all of 2020 from 2019.

“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.”

Young said a goal for the agency is to do better than a state economist’s projection that the Florida tourism sector will not make a full recovery until 2024. 

“Our goal is to beat that,” Young 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.”

Florida drew 26.162 million domestic and international visitors from Jan. 1 to March 31, down from 30.4 million tourists during the first quarter of 2020, when the pandemic took hold in Florida as theme parks closed and Major League Baseball cut short spring training.

The number of tourists fell to 9.92 million in the second quarter of 2020, a 69.4 percent drop from the prior year, before increasing to 20.33 million in the third quarter and 19.096 million for the fourth quarter.

In January, Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, suggested that while tourism numbers show expected improvements during the coming year, it may not be until 2024 before normalcy returns to the hospitality and leisure industries.

When revising the state’s tax revenue projections in March, Baker put the return to “normal” for overseas travelers in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The 2020 tourism figures were the lowest in a decade for a state that relies heavily on travelers to fuel its economy. 

As the state started to reopen last summer, Visit Florida targeted East Coast regions easily drivable to Florida and this year started expanding its marketing efforts to California, Oregon and Washington.

A $50 million spending plan is set to go before the Visit Florida Board of Directors on June 8.

The state budget approved April 30 by lawmakers provides $75 million for Visit Florida, including a one-time allocation of $25 million from federal stimulus money in the American Rescue Plan Act.

Young said the America Rescue Plan money is contingent on the state receiving the money from the federal government.

Visit Florida also has $5 million to spend from the U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration. That money came from another stimulus package known as the CARES Act.