By John Haughey
The Center Square
August 21, 2021
Domestic travel to Florida between April and June was expected to spike significantly compared with the same quarter-span in 2020, when a mid-March-through-May “non-essential business” lockdown devastated the Sunshine State’s $90 billion tourist and hospitality industry.
But more than doubling April-June 2020 domestic visitation, while also inducing an eightfold increase in International travelers, was far more than the state’s marketing agency, Visit Florida, last year anticipated seeing by this time this year.
According to Visit Florida, 31.7 million travelers visited the Sunshine State between April and June, the second quarter of 2021 (2Q 2021). Of those, about 30.6 million were from the U.S., a 216% increase from 2Q 2020 and 6% more than 2Q 2019.
Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted the mid-March through May 2020 emergency business restrictions in a three-tiered plan that essentially reopened the state in June, the start of 3Q 20 and, the governor said, Florida’s economic recovery from the pandemic as well as regulatory overreach.
DeSantis said Visit Florida’s numbers validate how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic
“Florida continues to serve as an example for the country that when you reject lockdowns and unnecessary mandates, your economy will thrive,” DeSantis said in a statement cited by Visit Florida.
“Not only did Florida have more visitors in the second quarter than we did in 2020, but the data shows that domestic visitation has already fully recovered to 2019 levels,” the governor added.
DeSantis commended “Florida business owners, who demonstrated the highest commitment to their employees” when up to 40% of the state’s tourism/hospitality labor force lost jobs in spring 2020.
Visit Florida President/CEO Dana Young, a former state senator appointed by DeSantis to lead the $50 million agency, said the “skyrocketing growth in Q2 21 is an incredible achievement for our state’s economic recovery and underscores the effectiveness of Visit Florida’s marketing.”
Late last year, the agency adopted a phased recovery plan that encouraged in-state travel in the first stage, domestic travel in stage two and then, the return of full international travel
As part of the recovery campaign targeting domestic visitors, Visit Florida is heavily advertising in U.S. markets within 700 miles of the state, highlighting an array of safe vacation opportunities that are a road trip or plane ride away.
“Visit Florida remains wholly focused on driving even more results for Florida’s tourism economy and showcasing everything our great state has to offer to travelers,” Young said,
Visit Florida said it has established marketing campaigns with Allegiant Airlines, American Airlines/American Airline Vacations and United Airlines “to drive bookings for traveling and room nights” in advertising across markets in the Midwest and the Northeast
“Those campaigns positioned Florida as a leading destination for travelers across the U.S and accelerated the recovery of the state’s tourism industry,” Visit Florida said.
Visit Florida preliminarily estimates 1.1 million overseas travelers visited Florida in 2Q 2021, a 854% surge over last April through June.
The spike comes despite prohibitions on international travel, Visit Florida notes, adding, “The number of overseas travelers have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Less than half as many travelers came from overseas in the second quarter of 2021 as the same period in 2019.”
Florida welcomed nearly 15 million travelers from overseas and Canada in 2019. Nowhere near that number of international visitation is forecast anytime soon.
Visit Florida states it “is working proactively to put Florida in the best possible position for when global travel resumes,” noting it has participated in more than “30 virtual or home-based events to build Florida’s competitive edge and keep the Sunshine State top-of-mind in key markets throughout the world.”