Foreign tourists bring big money to Florida

May 11, 2012

While many parts of Florida’s economy remain somewhat sluggish, there’s one area that’s going great guns.  Tom Flanigan reports it’s the state’s number one industry – tourism – and things are expected to keep getting better.

Despite the worldwide economic slowdown, political uncertainties, terrorist fears and almost every other negative you can think of, U-S Commerce Secretary John Bryson sees the number of international visitors to the United States growing….

“Up to 100 million, from the current slightly-over 60 million.  We estimate that these visitors will spend $250 billion on travel and tourism and related services and activities.”

That $250 billion  economic impact, by the way, is even more than last year’s gross output of the entire American steel industry.  To boost the international tourism market even more, Secretary Bryson announced a new promotion and marketing program during a May tenth conference call.  He also told reporters federal officials doing something else to encourage more visitors, especially from overseas.

“We’re going to work to streamline the entry process into the country through improvements in technology, staffing and infrastructure.  That’s critical.  The State Department is working to meet visa demand, building on the fact that they have already processed over one-million more applications in this past year – Fiscal 2011 – than they had in Fiscal 2010.”

The Commerce Department calls the entire international visitor outreach “Brand U-S-A.”  Eileen Forrow is vice president of sales and marketing for Visit Florida, the state’s public/private tourism promotion company.  She says it’s the first time there has been a unified, national campaign to attract foreign tourists.

“Brand USA and the whole model was actually sort of fashioned after Visit Florida where we are a co-op marketing organization.  So we will be able to put Brand USA’s tags on our ads; we can be the call to action on their ads.”

As a founding state partner in the effort, Forrow sees Florida in line for a lot of promotional help reaching international markets.  She says that would build nicely on the momentum that began building last year….

“And actually international was the one bright, shining star last year because domestic stayed pretty flat.  A lot of that growth came from our growth markets, which is Latin America and Brazil in particular.”

Overseas visitors surged by sixteen percentage points.  And for the first time since the data’s been tracked, Forrow says Brazil kicked the United Kingdom out of the number one spot for the top overseas origin market for Florida tourists.  Brazil’s visitation exploded by more than a third and Forrow says the activity favored by many of those visitors did not involve the beach or a theme park.

“I mean, they just come here to shop because of their economy, especially in Brazil.  The cost of living down there is expensive and when they come over, especially to Florida, with all the benefits of our outlet malls, they really go wild with their purchases.”

There could still be a few detours in the seemingly inexorable rise in Florida’s international tourism numbers.  Britain has slipped back into recession.  France has a new government.  Spain, Portugal and Greece remain deeply in debt.  And then there’s the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Gun-shy Brits and Europeans have been known to scrap Florida vacation plans when there’s a high-profile firearms case.  But Forrow says that hasn’t happened yet.  Overall, she says Florida’s tourism industry is bullish on foreign visitation.

“Europe as you know is giving us about three-point-four million visitors a year.  Latin America’s right up there with three million, right after them.  And tried-and-true Canada had another record year; three-point-three million Canadians.  It’s just absolutely astounding, but then again the strength of their dollar has been hovering at par with ours.”

While the U.S. dollar remains relatively weak compared to many other currencies.  That makes America, and Florida, a continuing vacation bargain.  That, combined with a new national campaign aimed at foreign markets, and Forrow says the state’s number one industry should have a very good 2012.