Florida has surpassed Gov. Rick Scott’s goal of attracting 100 million visitors in a single year.
And Scott is setting a higher target for tourism officials in 2016.
The governor and Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing arm, announced Thursday that an estimated 105 million tourists made their way to the Sunshine State in 2015, topping the 98.5 million reported the previous year.
Scott has focused on hitting the 100 million mark, and the preliminary number released Thursday reflects the fifth year in a row that the state has reported an increase in visitors.
“Tourism plays an important role in supporting our economy, and we will continue to make strategic investments in the tourism industry to keep Florida on track to becoming first for jobs,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “With five consecutive record years for tourism, it is time to set our goal even higher, and I look forward to welcoming 115 million visitors to the Sunshine State this year.”
Scott announced the latest tourism figures at Disney’s Epcot theme park.
In pushing to continue the increases, Scott has asked lawmakers to set aside $79.3 million for Visit Florida in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The funding would be an increase of $6 million from the current year.
The House and Senate have each budgeted $80 million for Visit Florida. Of that money, the House has proposed that $1.8 million go to a contract with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to craft an in-state tourism campaign. The Senate has pitched $2 million for the marketing contract with the Tallahassee-based hospitality trade association.
The 2015 numbers were driven by an increase in domestic visitors. Americans traveling to Florida grew from 83.2 million in 2014 to 89.8 million last year.
The number of Americans visiting Florida has steadily grown since the peak of the economic recession in 2009, when travel to Florida fell from 76.1 million to 71.2 million.
Overseas visitors dropped from 11.3 million 2014 to 11.2 million in 2015, according to the latest projections.
Visit Florida expanded its efforts to draw visitors from the United Kingdom last August by paying a “high six-figures” deal to sponsor the London-based Fulham Football Club, a second-division soccer league team owned by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid “Shad” Khan.
Visitors from Canada held at 4 million the past two years.
Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
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