Florida’s economy, already staggered by a stagnant real estate market and tight credit conditions, suffered another blow Friday when officials said tourism fell by 1.5 million visitors in 2007.
Preliminary estimates showed 82.4 million people visited Florida in 2007, compared to 83.9 who came in 2006. It was the first drop-off in visitors to Florida since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the northeast.
“Trends suggest that some vacationers traveling by auto may be staying closer to home,” said Bud Nocera, president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s private-public tourism agency.
Folks in other states apparently were staying closer to home too.
Tourism was flat a year ago as well, increasing by 1 percent, and Visit Florida has renewed its call on the Legislature for money to help lure more visitors with advertising blitzes.
“With ever increasing competition in the market place, it is important for Florida to be top of mind to all potential travelers,” said Nicki Grossman, vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Tourism. “Now more than ever, Florida’s tourism industry is counting on the Legislature.”
Tourism leaders want lawmakers to support Gov. Charlie Crist’s $43.3 million budget request for the industry.
Florida tax coffers received $3.9 billion in 2006 from the state’s $65 billion tourism industry, which employs nearly 1 million Florida residents.
The Legislature’s top economist, Amy Baker, said the national recession was largely responsible for the state’s tourism downturn.
“The two places you’d see it the most are in sales tax collections and rental car surcharges,” Baker said. “The housing was a homegrown problem, the tourism is not.”