Summer is over, and while fears of roiling, half-dispersed surges of oil lapping up on the beaches of western Florida are so far unfounded, the state is beginning to count the numbers for the tourism season, starting with late spring into summer.
The tourism board, Visit Florida, has come out with preliminary estimates of visitors during the second quarter between April and June. The state says some 20.8 million travelers visited during that period, representing an increase. Still, the Deep Horizon explosion was in late April.
About 80 million tourists visit Florida every year, resulting in $60 billion in taxable sales revenue, per the tourism board.
"While Florida as a whole showed an increase in visitors for the second quarter, we know that tourism businesses in oil-impacted parts of the state have suffered economically," said Chris Thompson, board president and CEO, in a statement. In June, the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau covering Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva launched "The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel" with humorous TV ads that explained that the beaches had not been affected.
The organization says visits during the quarter by U.S. residents increased 2.4%, while overseas visits increased by 11.9%. Visits by Canadians increased by 10.4% versus the period in 2009. Domestic visits were at 18.3 million, or an estimated 88% of the total, per Visit Florida. There were 1.9 million visitors from overseas or 9% of the total, while 702,000 visitors came from Canada -- 3.4% of the total. The tourism board said traffic at the state's 14 major airports rose by 2.5% and hotel occupancy rates were up 4.8% in the second quarter versus last year.
After the disaster, the tourism board launched FloridaLive.com, which offered real-time views of Florida beaches and social media elements so people could read what tourists, residents and others were saying. It also had time-stamped photos, Twitter, videos, blogs, vacation deals, travel and fishing reports.
The state also received $25 million from BP as part of a settlement. The board launched a campaign driving people to the Web site. The site had a record month in June, with nearly 720,000 visitors -- up 46% from the same month a year ago, before the site had real-time and social-media elements.
Ed Fouche, chairman of the Visit Florida Board of Directors and SVP of Travel Industry Sales for Disney Destinations, said in a statement that the efforts will continue because as response and recovery efforts are winding down, "The industry remains concerned about public misperception and recognizes that the same level of resources may be needed to ensure travelers know that Florida's beaches are clean, clear and open for business."