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Florida tourism posts record numbers for first-quarter visitation

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announces record tourist visits for early 2017

Florida governor Rick Scott announces record tourist visits for early 2017 at Jungle Island in Miami on May 15, 2017.Gov. Rick Scott touted record tourism in Florida during the first quarter of 2017 as he considers vetoing a dramatic cut to the st
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Florida governor Rick Scott announces record tourist visits for early 2017 at Jungle Island in Miami on May 15, 2017.Gov. Rick Scott touted record tourism in Florida during the first quarter of 2017 as he considers vetoing a dramatic cut to the st

Even as Gov. Rick Scott laments a proposed 67 percent cut to Visit Florida’s budget, he was more than pleased to announce the Sunshine State attracted a record number of tourists during the first three months of 2017.

Scott on Monday said that 31.1 million people visited Florida from January-March, a 2.5 percent jump when compared with the first quarter of 2016.

Moreover, the 31.1 million marked “the highest number of quarterly visitors in the state’s history,” Scott said in a news release.

Monday’s announcement came one week after the Florida Legislature approved an $82.4 billion budget that would slash the funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, from $78 million to $25 million. Legislative leaders defended the cuts by pointing to questionable Visit Florida contracts, including paying rapper Pitbull $1 million.

The fallout from that controversial deal cost Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe his job.

Scott, who has hinted that he might veto the budget, has repeatedly said that cutting Visit Florida’s budget would be detrimental to the state’s tourism efforts and hurt potential growth. In fact, Scott wanted $100 million this year to market the state to visitors, saying every dollar spent brings back $3.20 in tourism-related revenue.

According to the governor, 1.4 million jobs in Florida – or one in every six – are tied to tourism.

“Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas,” Scott said. “In business, you would never stop marketing when you start to see great results. ... We should be investing in tourism marketing so we can continue to bring record visitors to our state.”

1.4 millionThe number of jobs in Florida – or one in every six – that are tied to tourism, according to Gov. Rick Scott.

Visit Florida estimates that a record 27.1 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in the first quarter, reflecting a 3.2 percent increase over the same period last year. Estimates also show that 2.7 million overseas visitors and 1.3 million Canadians came to the Sunshine State from January-March.

According to Visit Florida, 2.2 percent fewer Canadians and 1.8 percent fewer international visitors came to Florida in the first three months of the year. But there had been a much steeper decline in the first quarter of 2016 as compared to 2015 in those two categories: 16.8 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.

Nearly 113 million tourists – most of them from the U.S. – visited last year.

Ken Lawson, Visit Florida’s new president and CEO, said Florida could lose out to U.S. destinations such as California and Texas if the proposed cuts are approved.

Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. In business, you would never stop marketing when you start to see great results.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

“Because the Legislature decided to inadequately fund Visit Florida, our organization is going to have to make tough decisions in the coming weeks and will not be able to compete,” Lawson said. “We will strive every day so Florida does not become another case study like other states who lost billions of dollars in revenue due to cutting tourism marketing dollars.”

Florida Senator Jack Latvala, R-Pinellas, said at the event Monday that he “wasn’t happy” with the legislature’s decision to cut Visit Florida funds.

“I’ve spent my life in the business world and owning my own business and I know when you stop advertising, when you stop marketing, you start dying,” Latvala said. “I’m hopeful that the governor will call us back to Tallahassee and make us finish the job.”

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report.

Mike Garbett: 941-745-7011; @MGarbett52

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