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Imagine Orlando’s Amway Center having sold-out crowds every day for 365 days in a row — with more than 3,000 other people stuck outside each time, wishing they had tickets.
That’s how many additional travelers — 23,300 — Florida would have to lure each day for a year to meet a new challenge from its governor: persuading 100 million people to visit the state in a single year.
Gov. Rick Scott, who started his first term in 2011 with a job-creation goal for recession-racked Florida, has said he would like to reach the 100 million milestone, though a time frame hasn’t been specified.
Still, as the Governor’s Conference on Tourism convenes today in Orlando, the state’s tourism marketers are taking up the challenge.
It’s not a far-fetched objective: Florida attracted 91.5 million travelers last year, and for the past decade its annual head count of visitors has grown an average of 2.4 percent — even with a dip during the Great Recession.
“The state of Florida has a tremendous amount of momentum, and there’s two things you can do with that: You can sit back and ride the wave or you can double down,” said Will Seccombe, chief executive officer of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing agency. “It’s a big charge, and an ambitious goal, but I think it’s something that’s achievable.”
The 100 million figure surfaced in a recent report by Florida Tax Watch, a fiscally conservative government-watchdog group. It was making a case for further boosting Florida’s tourism industry, citing the resiliency of that sector’s jobs relative to other industries during and after the 2007-09 recession.
The group’s analysis concluded that increasing tourism’s annual head count to 100 million would create 121,298 jobs — half within the industry and half in sectors such as retail and construction that would benefit indirectly from the added travel spending. The estimated average pay for those jobs: $43,752 a year, it said.
“[O]ne of the ways to diversify the Florida economy, create jobs, improve the income of Floridians, and do it with existing infrastructure and the expansion of that infrastructure is to increase Florida tourism spending by attracting more visitors to Florida and having them stay longer, and spend more,” the report concluded.
Orlando would obviously play a big role in any attempt to boost Florida’s tourist count. As the state’s biggest tourist destination, “our contribution to that is really important,” said George Aguel, chief executive of Visit Orlando, which markets Central Florida as a travel destination.
The three-day Governor’s Conference on Tourism is taking place this year at Universal Orlando, in the Royal Pacific resort. The annual event focuses on marketing trends, including opportunities for Florida tourism in emerging markets overseas.
“Gov. Scott continues to work every day to ensure that Florida’s economy remains on the right track and our state continues to attract visitors from across the world,” Deputy Press Secretary John Tupps said. “Gov. Scott looks forward to having 100 million tourists annually in the future.”
Visit Florida now gets $63.5 million a year for travel promotion, a figure that has more than doubled in four years. Does it need more?
“I think it depends on how fast you try to get there,” said Seccombe, the Visit Florida CEO, when asked if the new benchmark would require more spending by the state. “I do think to get to 100 million yearly visitors in the next year or two is going to take additional funding.”
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.