TALLAHASSEE — With international travel clawing closer to pre-pandemic levels, Florida is on pace for a record-setting year for tourism.
The tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida on Thursday estimated 35.066 million people traveled to Florida during the third quarter of 2023, 1.4 percent more than during the same period of 2022 and 7.9 percent above the total in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The new numbers showed a rebound from a slight second-quarter dip, which industry leaders attributed to increased competition from other states and countries that were closed longer than Florida because of the pandemic.
In 2019, Florida attracted 131 million visitors, with 100.267 million coming to the state during the first nine months of the year.
Florida’s July-through-September totals this year were dominated by visitors from other states. But they were also helped by the federal government’s lifting of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for international air travelers on May 11, the same day a COVID-19 public health emergency ended.
International tourism, however, continues to face issues with non-migrant visa delays, which have been blamed, at least in part, on staffing shortages at embassies. The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website Thursday showed London wait times at 110 days, up from 90 days on June 7. Paris was at 200 days, up from 180 days in June. Rio De Janeiro was at 162 days on Thursday, down from 477 days in June.
Florida’s tourism industry was hammered in 2020 because of pandemic-related shutdowns. But state officials have contended that early efforts to reopen the economy led to a quicker tourism rebound in Florida.
“Florida continues to set records for visitation because of our commitment to allowing visitors to enjoy their travels without arbitrary government restrictions,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a prepared statement Thursday.
Overseas and Canadian tourists, however, showed year-over-year increases — though they are still not at pre-pandemic levels.
Visit Florida estimated the state had nearly 2.23 million overseas visitors in the third quarter, up from 1.93 million in the third quarter of 2022. In the third quarter of 2019, the total was 2.5 million.
Also, Canadian travel — traditionally the top international country of origin for visitors to Florida — reached 666,000 in the third quarter, topping 561,000 in the third quarter of 2022. For the first nine months of 2023, Florida attracted about 2.8 million Canadians, up from 1.749 million in the same period of 2022.
In 2019, 4.088 million Canadians made their way to Florida, with 2.997 million during the first nine months of the year and 703,000 during the third quarter.
Pointing to the trends in global travel, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young called the third-quarter figures “a new normal with an elevated market share of tourism, especially international tourism.”
To combat increased competition from other parts of the U.S., Visit Florida made plans this year to market regions of the state outside of their peak seasons, highlight non-typical tourist destinations and move up the start of winter and “families” advertising campaigns.
The state budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, includes $80 million for Visit Florida, a $30 million increase from last year.