Florida is seeing fewer tourists as states rebound from the pandemic
The number of people traveling to Florida during the second quarter of 2023 decreased compared to a year earlier, according to estimates released this week by the state’s tourism-marketing agency.
Florida drew an estimated 33.092 million visitors during the quarter, keeping the state slightly ahead of an overall record pace of visitors in 2022. But the figure from April through June represented a 1.2% decrease from the second quarter of 2022, when it totaled 33.485 million.
Tourists from other parts of the U.S., who make up the bulk of Florida travelers, were off an estimated 2.4% from the same period in 2022.
Dana Young, president and CEO of the Visit Florida tourism-marketing agency, pointed to increased competition from other states and countries that shut down longer than Florida during the pandemic. But she also touted an increase this year in international tourists in Florida.
“We compete globally, not just here in the U.S.,” Young told The News Service of Florida. “Destinations are opening up. And when they do, they're going to be using all those dollars they didn't spend (during the pandemic) to try and lure their people back. So, the fact that we have these massive increases in international visitation is great.”
Groups such as the NAACP, Equality Florida and the League of United Latin American Citizens in recent months have issued travel advisories about Florida because of their opposition to a series of decisions on issues such as how Black history is taught and restricting diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
But Young said the advisories haven’t impacted tourism in “any meaningful way.”
“We are continuing to see a very diverse group of vacationers that are coming to Florida,” Young said. “They are spending money here, supporting our state economy. We value all of them, and we continue to encourage people to come.”
The tourism industry took a massive hit in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and international visitors have been slower to return than U.S. tourists. Factors have included now-lifted pandemic travel regulations, unfavorable currency exchange rates and lengthy visa wait times in foreign countries.
“We started really leaning in to bringing back international visitation in 2021,” Young said. “And have continued that push.”
During the second quarter of 2023, Florida drew an estimated 1.941 million overseas visitors, up from 1.748 million during the same period in 2022, according to the estimates.
Florida attracted 34.646 million U.S. visitors in the first quarter of this year and 30.305 million in the second. It also attracted 1.305 million Canadian visitors during the first quarter and 846,000 in the second quarter.
“Destinations are opening up. And when they do, they're going to be using all those dollars they didn't spend to try and lure their people back. So, fact that we have these massive increases in international visitation is great.”Dana Young, president and CEO of Visit Florida
The overall drop in year-to-year tourism figures was the first for a quarter since the first three months of 2021. But Florida’s total visitors for the first half of 2023 were up 1.3% from the first half of 2022. Also, the number exceeded the total in the first half of 2019, before the pandemic hit.
Some tourism officials had warned in recent weeks to expect a fall-off as other states try to catch up.
As an example, the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council posted bed-tax collections for May that were 2.3% lower than a year earlier, with June 5.5% off the 2022 figure.
In his company’s second-quarter earnings call on Aug. 9, Disney CEO Bob Iger said a decline in business at Walt Disney World properties stemmed from an overall “softening” of tourism in many pockets of Florida.
“As post-COVID pent-up demand continues to level off in Florida, local tax data shows evidence of some softening in several major Florida tourism markets. And the strong dollar is expected to continue tamping down international visitation to the state,” Iger said. “However, Walt Disney World is still performing well above pre-COVID levels, 21% higher in revenue and 29% higher in operating income compared to fiscal 2019.”
Young said Hurricane Ian recovery also has played a part in shifting numbers for U.S. travelers. She said hotel stays are down 13% in the Fort Myers area after months of near-capacity room demand driven by repair workers.
Despite the recent increases, international travel this year remains behind pre-pandemic totals.
For the first half of the year, the state had an estimated 2.15 million Canadians visitors and 3.74 million overseas travelers. During the first half of 2019, Florida reported 2.4 million Canadians and 5.2 million overseas visitors.