Florida's tourism picture is still setting records, but the persistent drop in overseas visitors is troubling — especially for a warm-weather destination with global appeal.
Florida set another tourism record in 2018, reaching 126 million visitors for the year — an increase of 6.2 percent from the previous year.
Last year, an estimated 14.33 million visitors came from Canada and overseas locations; That’s down by about 49,000 from the 2017 total of 14.38 million.
The drop comes as the growth in visitation to the United States overall slows. New research from Tourism Economics earlier this year showed that international visits to the country grew 2 percent in 2018.
Florida had some unique struggles last year. The Gulf Coast battled red tide, a toxic algae, throughout the year and Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle in October.
After falling from 2014 to 2016, the number of Canadian visitors to Florida has been slowly increasing. Just over 3.5 million Canadians came to the state last year, an increase of 2 percent.
Overseas tourists — a group that does not include Canadians — have been declining in Florida since 2016. The 2018 total, about 10.82 million, represented just a 1 percent drop compared to roughly 2 percent each of the previous two years. Last year’s number of overseas visitors was the lowest that figure has been since 2012.
Information about visitation from specific countries in 2018 was not available Wednesday. But a representative for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation, said certain markets showed promise.
“Visit Florida tailor fits marketing for each international market and remains highly optimistic regarding international travel to the state, particularly in Canada, the U.K., France, and a rebounding Brazilian market,” spokeswoman Sara Sowerby said in an email. “Florida is a warm, welcoming and diverse destination and that is what we will continue to promote and focus on.”
Sowerby pointed out in an email that visitation to the state had increased 56 percent since 2009. Wednesday’s numbers showed that domestic visitation leapt more than 7 percent to nearly 112 million in 2018.
“With today’s announcement of an eighth consecutive record-breaking year, it’s clear that by focusing on value and data-driven campaigns, Visit Florida and the tourism industry have achieved unprecedented success,” President and CEO Dana Young said in a statement.
Young, a former state senator who lost her bid for re-election in 2018, was named to head the once-embattled organization in January by Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis. She earned praise from tourism insiders for her support of the industry during her time in office.
Visit Florida survived threats to slash its budget in 2017 following a scandal that erupted around a marketing deal with the rapper Pitbull — and forced the CEO, chief marketing officer, and chief financial officer out. DeSantis has called for the organization to keep its $76 million budget for the coming year.
This story has been updated to include a quote from a Visit Florida spokeswoman.
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Photo credit: Sunset is shown on Florida's Coquina Beach in this photo from April 2018. The state saw its number of visitors increase, but overseas tourists continued to drop. Rick Schwartz / Flickr