It won’t be easier to make a left-hand turn in Florida anytime soon. About 60. 7 million tourists visited Florida in the first half of 2017 — a four percent increase that was spurred predominately from American travelers compared to the same time period in 2016, according to the latest figures released Tuesday.
Gov. Rick Scott unveiled the latest numbers, calling them an all-time record for a six-month period, during a press conference in Tampa.
“I am proud to announce today that Florida has continued its record breaking success,” Scott said in a statement. “This means back-to-back record quarters for our state.”
Florida recorded an estimated record of 112 million visitors in 2016 also.
“This is an exciting and historic time for the Florida tourism industry,” said Ken Lawson, CEO and president of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency.
“It’s great to see another record visitation number on the state level, and Orlando continues to play a leading role in supporting that growth,” Visit Orlando said in a statement.
The latest records don’t come as a surprise because Florida’s tourism numbers have steadily grown over the years, said Youcheng Wang, a University of Central Florida associate dean and professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
New attractions, like Disney’s Pandora – The World of Avatar and Universal Studios’ Volanco Bay water park, can get more visitors excited about coming to visit, Wang said.
There is a risk of too much growth in the future as establishments get crowded and locals are alienated, Wang said.
“I don’t think we’ve reached that level yet,” Wang said about the latest tourism numbers for 2017. “Everybody should be pleased by the increase.”
As more people visit Florida, theme parks have rolled out blackout dates or increased prices to combat high crowds, he pointed out.
It becomes important to promote sports tourism or nature sites, especially in Orlando, said Wang, calling it essential to diversify the tourism industry.
“Orlando already is suffering from the slogan we used to use — Orlando is called the the world capital of theme parks,” Wang said. “I think you have a problem if you continue to do that. That’s not a reflection of reality. Orlando is much bigger than that.”
With record numbers, like Tuesday’s announcement, experts have warned predicting tourism traffic is a complicated science.
“It’s not that somebody stays at the borders and clicks the number of people, ” said Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, in May. “These are best estimates.”
A Visit Florida spokesman said Tuesday its methodology was created in conjunction with the University of North Florida in 2008.
The agency came up with the 60.7 million estimate by calculating enplanement numbers from 17 airports in the state as well as other information from Virginia-based research company D.K. Shifflet and others.
Visit Florida does not not have a margin of error for its predictions but revises its quarterly and annual estimates as numbers change, the organization said.
Tuesday’s numbers estimated about 88 percent — or 53.2 million — of Florida’s visitors were traveling from within the United States. Only about 5.3 million visited Florida from overseas plus 2.2 million Canadians.
In recent months, there had been anxiety from some over whether international travelers would stop coming to the United States following President Donald Trump’s election and his push for a travel ban on six predominately Muslim countries.
The international visitors are coveted in the tourism industry because they typically stay longer and spend more than domestic travelers.
But Tuesday, Wang said it was hard to tell if concerns over Trump and the ban affected the state’s tourism industry.
“It’s a little too early to judge,” he said.