Destinations

Miami, not Orlando, drives Florida growth as tourism continues to improve

Aug 18, 2012 2:47 am

Skift Take

Cosmopolitan Miami is driving the growth in Florida as it brings in visitors looking for an urban escape where people speak a bit of Spanish and enjoy a little sand and surf.

— Jason Clampet

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Florida hosted 1.3 percent more visitors in the second quarter than it did last year, keeping on pace to set a record for tourism in 2012, the state’s tourism marketing agency said Thursday.

A total 22.1 million visitors came to Florida in the April through June period. About 18.8 million visited from the United States, up a mere 0.3 percent, and 2.4 million came countries other than Canada and Mexico, up 10 percent. Gains came largely from the growing middle class in South America, especially Brazil, according to estimates from Visit Florida.

South Florida helped the state post those improvements. The area accounted for the bulk of international arrivals, including many overseas guests who come for cruises departing Miami and Fort Lauderdale, travel leaders said.

Broward County saw a 2.7 percent increase in arrivals in the second quarter and is on track to reach a record 12 million overnight visitors this year. That’s up from 11 million last year, said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“A lot of what happens in the state gets off a plane right here,” Grossman said in Fort Lauderdale.

More tourists meant more jobs. The number of direct travel-related jobs in Florida rose to 1.04 million in June, up 1.1 percent from a year earlier and the largest number since the first quarter of 2008 — before the financial crisis walloped the travel industry.

“Increased visitation and spending by travelers to the state have fueled 27 straight months of job growth. More than 1 million Floridians are now employed in the tourism industry — a number we are proud to see steadily increasing as Florida is on pace for another record year,” Glenn Hastings, Visit Florida’s chairman of the board said in a prepared statement.

More travelers also meant more taxes collected. Across Florida, taxable sales for tourism and recreation jumped 8.8 percent to $31.5 billion from January through May, the latest data available. And hotel taxes rose, as the average daily room rate rose 3.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the tourism group said.

South Florida hotel room rates are trending higher, spurred by growing demand.

For the first half this year, average room rates in Broward County rose 3.9 percent to $126 per night. In Palm Beach County, the rate increased 5.6 percent to $159 per night. And in Miami-Dade-County, the rate spiked 7.6 percent to $178 per night, according to hotel specialists Smith Travel Research.

Even so, the speed of tourism gains lagged in the second quarter, reflecting a slowdown in the U.S. and global economy in the period. The number of visitors to the Sunshine State had grown by 1.7 percent in the first quarter, according to revised numbers from Visit Florida.

That’s down too from a 6.1 percent spike in arrivals last year to reach a record 87.3 million visitors, who spent $67.2 billion in the state, according to Visit Florida.

(c)2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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