The Sunshine State lived up to its name during the first quarter of this year and more than reaped the rewards in terms of tourism. Florida’s warm and sunny weather from January to March drew record numbers of visitors to the state, which is well on track to achieving its aim of attracting over 100 million tourists by December.
According to figures released by Visit Florida, the official tourism authority, the state received over 26.7 million visitors in the first quarter. As well as a 2 per cent increase on the same period in 2013, this is a quarterly record – impressive even for a state well accustomed to achieving high levels of tourism. The number of international visitors rose significantly, particularly in places like Collier County, which received 10 per cent more overseas tourists, placing Florida on the holiday map outside the summer season usually favoured by foreign holidaymakers.
Southwest Florida International Airport broke two records during the first three months of this year. In February, passenger figures were the best ever for this month in the year and the 1.15 million passengers who arrived in March were the highest monthly figures in the airport’s 31 years of history.
Another important measure of tourism comes in the revenue collected from the Tourist Development Tax in Florida, levied on all short-term and holiday accommodation, and popularly known as the ‘bed tax’. Two counties showed spectacular increases in their revenue from holiday lets – Lee County and Collier County reported a 13 and 15 per cent year-on-year rise respectively. Although the number of holidaymakers renting accommodation rose less than 5 per cent in Collier County and by just over 6 in Lee County, the higher tax revenue is attributed to the higher rental rates charged by owners.
This factor would also appear to be behind higher hotel revenues in Florida during the first quarter this year. Experts believe these figures reflect a wealthier profile in both tourists and part-time residents. With the US economy bounding back fast and employment levels rising, wealth stability is returning to sectors of the population that are key to Florida’s tourism success. Significant numbers of so-called baby-boomers are taking early or part retirement and spending the winter months in the Florida sunshine. Many go on to buy retirement property in the state, which they use themselves in winter and let during the summer months, often to international visitors.
These first-quarter figures for Florida tourism confirm the state’s return to economic stability, also apparent in record employment levels and a boom in property construction in some parts of the state such as Sarasota. This good start to the year in one of Florida’s key economic sectors augers well for 2014 generally and the state definitely looks set to achieve its objective of 100 million tourists this year.