Exploring Miami Beach one recent afternoon, Swiss tourists Adrian Cannistra and Shkunte Mustafa said they considered vacationing on a beach closer to home before booking the lengthy overseas flight.
Greece might have been ideal — with the financial crisis, bargains can be had and many Swiss are taking advantage. Cannistra has vacationed in Tunisia but said recent terrorist attacks there scared him away from North Africa.
“The Swiss don’t go there anymore,” he said. “They’re afraid.”
In the end, the couple opted for Florida because Cannistra wanted to see the United States.
The Swiss visitors are among thousands of European tourists helping to fuel a $25 billion annual tourism-related economic influx to the Miami area. Experts say terror attacks in Tunisia and the Greek economic crisis are changing beach vacation plans for many Europeans and could have a big impact on Miami and the rest of Florida.
“It comes up in our conversations about our international business,” sad Rolando Aedo, vice president of The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Miami, unlike any other tourist destination in the U.S., even New York and Los Angeles, has the highest percentage of international visitors. Half of our visitors are international so what happens around the world is crucial for us.”
From his office in downtown Miami, Aedo keeps a close watch on complex international political developments and on daily fluctuations in international currency markets.
This summer, Aedo and other Florida tourism officials are monitoring the fallout of the Tunisian terrorist attack that killed 38 people, including 30 British. They are also monitoring the economic turmoil in Greece — something that makes that country’s beaches more affordable but also causes some potential tourists to worry about political instability in the Mediterranean paradise.
European visitation to Florida was up 6 percent from 2013 to 2014, the most recent totals available. About 4 million Europeans visited the state, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. Paul Phipps, Visit Florida’s marketing director, expects the trend to continue.
“Safety is always a concern to international travelers. We always rank very high in surveys when we ask visitors if they feel safe here,” he said.
But Phipps said Florida tourism officials do not want to benefit by exploiting troubles in other parts of the world. The state often pulls its advertising in places when tragedy or natural disasters happen, he said.
Recent developments in Europe are just a small part of an overall trend in tourism growth from Europe, he said.
“I think rather than looking at us as an alternative to Greece or Tunisia, they look at us their top option,” he said.
Olga Plimer co-owns Florida’s largest German-language newspaper, the Venice-based Sun State Post. The paper caters to Germans living in southwest Florida and to the thousands of Germans who visit the state each month. Germans are the top European visitors to the Miami area and statewide they rank seventh among foreign tourists.
Plimer said turmoil in Europe and the surrounding region make Florida an even-more attractive destination for Germans.
“If you are on vacation you don’t want to be concerned about any problems,” the German native said. “You want to be able to go out at night and have a variety of restaurants and activities to enjoy while you feel safe and welcome.”