MIAMI — Florida Gov. Rick Scott says a record number of tourists are visiting the state.
Scott visited Miami’s Jungle Island Monday to announce that 31.1 million people visited Florida during the first three months of this year. That’s a 2.5 percent jump over the same time period in 2016.
Nearly 113 million tourists — most of them from the U.S. — visited last year, despite concerns that news events would turn them away. Visitors seemed undaunted by the Pulse shootings in Orlando and by the Zika virus outbreak in South Florida. Some tourism experts also warned that with Donald Trump as president, international travel to the U.S. would decline, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Florida.
According to Visit Florida — the state’s tourism arm — 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 first-quarter 2016 from 2015 in those two categories: 16.8 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.
Scott, however, is warning that potential cuts to Florida’s tourism marketing agency could doom continued growth. State legislators voted to cut two-thirds of the funding to Visit Florida after pointing to some questionable agency contracts.
If Scott signs the new state budget, the cuts will take effect in July. Scott hinted he may veto it.
Scott took a jab at the Legislature during his visit to Jungle Island.
“It is disappointing that the Florida Legislature made a shortsighted decision to jeopardize the growth of our tourism industry and the 1.4 million jobs that rely on it by cutting funding to VISIT FLORIDA by 67 percent,” he said in a prepared statement.
“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,” he said. “Instead of decimating funding to VISIT FLORIDA, we should be investing in tourism marketing so we can continue to bring record visitors to our state.”