County tourism outpaces state’s 2nd quarter rebound

Florida attracted 31.7 million visitors in the second
quarter of this year, as the state continued to expand tourism-marketing
efforts and COVID-19 vaccinations became readily available.

Based on TDC revenues, Gulf County is doing just as well if not better,

The statewide total was a 16.3 percent improvement from the first
three months of the year and was 223.4 percent above the second quarter of
2020, when the global pandemic devastated the stateÂ’s vital tourism industry.

In the case of Gulf County, and based on bed tax revenues, the totals showed a that the first three months of the year were running at anywhere from about 38 to about 145 percent over last year.  And the second quarter of this year, between April and June, tourism was running about 263 percent ahead of that same time last year.

The state 2021 visitor numbers from April 1 through June 30 were
also just 2.2 percent below where the state was in 2019, a year when the state
was unknowingly at the end of a decade-long run of annual record-setting
tourism numbers.

In Gulf County, bed tax numbers were running more than twice what they were two years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Dana Young, president and CEO of the tourism-marketing
agency Visit Florida, said in a statement Sunday the growth this year
represents an “incredible achievement for our state’s economic recovery and
underscores the effectiveness of Visit Florida’s marketing.”

FloridaÂ’s second-quarter numbers were driven by travelers
from other parts of the United States. During the three-month period, Florida
drew 30.563 million domestic visitors, representing a 215.9 percent increase
from the same period in 2020 — and an increase from the same period in 2019.

“Our rebound campaigns have not only helped propel travel
well past 2020 levels, but a 6 percent increase from 2019 domestic visitation
as well,” Young said. “These efforts have also been crucial for conveying the
safety and diversity of our state, which is home to infinite vacation options
from coast to coast.”

Young has made a goal of topping a state economistÂ’s
projection in January that the tourism sector will not make a full recovery
until 2024. Economists later revised the projection for a return to “normal”
for overseas travelers to the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

FloridaÂ’s recovery has benefited from other states shutting
down marketing efforts for most of 2020 after the pandemic closed hotels, theme
parks and tourist attractions.

A marketing rebuild began last summer and has continued this
year — from first pitching Floridians on exploring the state, to trying to
attract travelers from other parts of the U.S., to expanding attention in May
to Mexico and England.

Still, the road remains bumpy for tourism officials.

Florida in recent weeks has been one of the hottest spots
for coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. That
resulted in Walt Disney theme parks again requiring guests to wear face masks
while indoors, on attractions and in enclosed transportation.

Masks remain optional indoors, regardless of vaccination
status, for guests at other major theme parks, including Universal Orlando,
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

Florida also is getting hit with negative media attention
for water quality issues such as a red-tide outbreak that led this summer to
massive fish kills in the Tampa Bay area.

“Moving forward, Visit Florida remains wholly focused on
driving even more success for FloridaÂ’s tourism economy and showcasing
everything our great state has to offer to travelers,” Young said in the
statement Sunday.

Florida could be bolstered in the coming months and into the
winter season as cruise ships have started returning to sea and by a partial
return of travelers from Canada, which this month opened its border to
vaccinated Americans.

The Biden administration has not made a similar border
decision, but pressure has been mounting from the tourism industry.

“Reopening the U.S. land border to fully vaccinated
Canadians would mark a good starting point towards rebuilding our own travel
economy, and the Biden administration should reciprocate this policy decision
— given the high rate of vaccination across Canada — without further
delay,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement
last week.

FloridaÂ’s second quarter numbers showed 1.115 million
overseas travelers, a nearly 95 percent jump from the first quarter.

The estimated 15,000 Canadian visitors in the second quarter
was a 74.1 percent improvement from the same period in 2020, but down 56
percent from the first quarter of this year.

Two years ago, Florida drew 930,000 Canadians, 2.646 million
overseas travelers and 28.83 million domestic visitors in the second quarter.

Visit Florida received $50 million in the state budget that
started July 1 for marketing efforts. Another $5 million is calculated into the
agency’s $121.2 million budget from the U.S. Commerce Department Economic
Development Administration through a federal stimulus law known as the CARES Act.

An additional $25 million in federal pandemic stimulus money
is coming through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Private tourism groups and businesses are expected to
provide $9.1 million in cash and $54.1 through “cooperative advertising” and
other offsetting expenses.

For the first half of this year, Florida totaled 58.943
million visitors — up 47.6 percent from the first half of 2020, but down 13.6
percent from 2019, when the state was on pace for a record 131.422 million
visitors. Last year, Florida ended with 79.338 million visitors.

David Adlerstein assisted with this story.