Florida tourism officials optimistic despite spread of omicron

A senior Florida tourism official called the future of travel in the state “bright” and said there were no plans to slow down marketing efforts, even with the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said on Wednesday the agency was continuing to expand its winter marketing campaign in the United States and was not slowing international efforts.

“It’s been a tough road for our international people, but we haven’t stopped for a second working in these markets to make sure Florida remains a priority,” Young said on a conference call with members of the Visit Florida executive committee. .

Last month, a panel of state economists slightly lowered expectations through mid-2022 for Canadian and foreign travelers, anticipating that the omicron variant would, at least temporarily, slow the resurgence of tourism in Florida.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislative Assembly’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said in a meeting on Dec. 20 that the highly contagious variant would likely affect people’s decisions to travel to and from Florida.

“I think omicron has kind of changed the environment,” Baker said. “I know two people who were planning to travel overseas. They canceled their trips because of omicron, not knowing what the additional lockdown restrictions (would be) if they had a location. Would their country be? open? What’s going on in the United States? ” What would their demands be on them? “

Florida’s tourism industry topped expectations in the third quarter of 2021, attracting 32.6 million visitors, 2 million more than expected earlier this year and 0.3% more than the total number of visitors in the third quarter of 2019 — before the start of the pandemic. Totals for the third quarter of 2021 followed 31.7 million visitors in the second quarter, down 2.2% from the second quarter of 2019.

Nearly 90% of visitors in 2021 were from other states, although officials at Visit Florida expect a resurgence of Canadian and foreign visitors after the White House eased travel restrictions in November.

Visit Florida Marketing Director Staci Mellman said Wednesday it was too early to project fourth-quarter numbers.

“More recently, I think we’ve seen some increase in travel, especially from Latin America, but it’s always been pretty consistent over the past year and a half during the pandemic,” Mellman said. “I think the numbers were lower than we expected from Europe.”

Committee members said they saw numerous license plates from New York, New Jersey and the Carolinas on Interstate 95, but there was no normal harvest in Quebec and other parts of Canada. .

In early 2022, Visit Florida launched a new winter marketing campaign targeting the West Coast and locating tourists from many cities, including New York; Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Houston; Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City; Chicago; Detroit; Philadelphia Cream; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Cleveland; Boston; Saint Louis; Nashville, Tennessee; Macon, Georgia; Louisville, Ky .: Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

Executive committee member Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the local organization has already seen winter tourism increase 25% to 40% from a year ago .

“I think you’ll see across the state that there will be an increase in business from our friends in Canada, as well as the Northeast and Upper Midwest,” Rowe said.

Young also expressed his optimism.

“My common sense tells me that if the border was open, which it was or is, they are in their suburbs and their motorhomes, and if they are not already there, they are on their way,” said Young. “And we should get those numbers… but common sense just tells me they don’t hang around in Canada.”

Young’s update came as Visit Florida is hoping to gain support from lawmakers to extend the agency’s planned expiration date beyond October 1, 2023.

A Senate proposal (SB 434) would keep the agency in operation until October 1, 2031. A similar House measure (HB 489) proposes an extension until October 1, 2028.

The agency also hopes to maintain public funding of $ 50 million for the next fiscal year, an amount requested by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Visit Florida received $ 80 million from the legislature for the current fiscal year, including $ 30 million in federal stimulus programs.

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