Tourism numbers set record in 2018

Toxic waterways and a devastating hurricane did not keep visitors away from the Sunshine State last year, according to Florida’s tourism-marketing arm.

Visit Florida announced Wednesday that the state had 126.1 million visitors in 2018, a 6 percent increase from the record set in 2017.

“It's clear that by focusing on value and data-driven campaigns, Visit Florida and the tourism industry have achieved unprecedented success,” Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said in a statement.

The increase was bolstered by 7.1 percent growth in U.S. travelers, who accounted for 88.6 percent of the state’s visitors, according to the Visit Florida numbers. Overseas visitors declined by 1 percent, to 10.818 million, after falling by 2 percent a year earlier.  Overseas travel has dropped for four consecutive years.

Meanwhile, tourism from Canada went up 1.9 percent last year, to 3.447 million, after growing by 3 percent in 2017.

Visit Florida, under its former president, Ken Lawson, put an emphasis on Canadian marketing in 2017. The number of Canadian visitors had fallen for four consecutive years before the agency increased its focus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has recommended lawmakers maintain Visit Florida’s funding at $76 million for next fiscal year, the same amount as during the year that will end June 30. Young told members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee last week that the public-private agency had to overcome the equivalent of $35 million in negative media due to news coverage of Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle in October.

The state received an additional $22 million in negative media from reports on toxic red tide and algae outbreaks last year in Southeast and Southwest Florida, Young said.

State estimates indicate Florida had 112.4 million visitors in 2016; 106.6 million in 2015; 98.5 million in 2014; 94.1 million in 2013; 91.5 million in 2012; and 87.3 million in 2011.