FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. – Tourism in Florida is bouncing back and exceeding pre-pandemic levels, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday at a news conference in Fort Walton Beach.
DeSantis said recent data released shows 30.9 million visitors coming to the state from October to December of 2021, up nearly 60% from the same period in 2020 and topping pre-pandemic levels from the same quarter pre-pandemic.
“This is the second consecutive quarter that we had more visitors in Florida than the same time period in 2019, pre-COVID,” DeSantis said at the 3 p.m. briefing in Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
The visitors populating Florida beaches and theme parks are not just domestic travelers, but international guests. According to DeSantis, three times as many Canadians came to Florida compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
DeSantis said the “highest hotel revenues ever in the state of Florida” accompany the increasing number of tourists, in 2021, gaining the state $17.3 billion. State statistics show the number of hotel room nights sold also increased by about 50% since 2020.
“The demand for vacation rentals, which many people in Northwest Florida understand, is at an all-time high,” DeSantis said. “And vacation rental occupancy, compared to 2019 pre-COVID, is up almost 30% in 2021. And I’ll tell you this part of the state (Northwest Florida) is driving that.”
Okaloosa County’s Tourism Development Director Jennifer Adams spoke about the recent tourism development tax revenues, which were 74% greater than in 2020 and 41% greater than the last pre-pandemic year.
“It’s really important to know how significant those revenues are because they do more than just marketing this wonderful place,” Adams said. “We restore our beaches, we clean the beaches, we clean the parks, we pay for public safety. And it’s very important that those numbers are strong and good and continue to grow.”
Adams said the state exceeded their goal of “10% visitor spend,” which is the amount spent by tourists in the area, and the extra money went back into the tourism industry to fund restaurants and shops, among other things.
DeSantis said in addition to funding Florida’s already existing establishments, more restaurants opened their doors across the state last year, bolstering the tourism industry even more.
The Republican governor was joined by Dana Young, president and CEO of Visit Florida, who also sang the praises of Florida’s No. 1 industry.
“The fact that we had record domestic tourism in 2021 is mind-blowing. The fact... that we’ve beat out New York as the No. 1 destination for international travelers is amazing,” Young said. “So we are killing it here in Florida. Our tourism industry is thriving.”