Florida enjoying record-breaking tourism, governor says

Florida is enjoying record-breaking tourism despite the mosquito-borne Zika virus and water quality issues, the governor says.



Rick Scott told a Lee County news conference Friday that tourism grew during the first half of 2016, as 57.4 million people visited Florida  between January and June. That is an increase of 6 percent over the 54.1 million visitors the state claimed in the first half of 2015.

The result, the governor said, is that 1.2 million Floridians are working in tourism-related jobs.

"That's a record, that's 4 percent more than last year, so thank God for all the tourism," Scott said at Southwest Florida International Airport.

"When we get all these tourists here we create jobs, people want to come to our state, we have wonderful weather, we have wonderful restaurants, we have amusement parks, beaches, all these things."

Scott said he is not worried that people may decide to make next year's reservations elsewhere, in light of the state's battle with the Zika virus, and issues with water quality affecting some beaches. The answer, he claims, is to convince people elsewhere that Florida has the issues under control.

"The most important thing you can do for anyone who is thinking about coming to our state is keeping them informed so they know that this state knows how to deal with hurricanes, tropical storms, we know how to deal with Zika, we controlled other mosquito borne viruses (such as) chikungunya and Dengue fever so they know that we're ahead of this," Scott said.

"Disney came out (Thursday) and said they didn't see any impact on them so hopefully we're going to keep everyone informed and we'll see record numbers."

An area of Miami-Dade County being watched for mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus was reduced by four square blocks this week, Scott said.

Earlier this week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has been endorsed by Scott, was asked during a campaign stop in Daytona about what he would do to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. Trump responded that Scott was handling the issue well.

The governor has criticized what he called lack of action by President Obama on the issue and brushed aside the suggestion that Trump has not recognized Zika as a federal issue.

"The person that's in the White House now is Barack Obama, Congress needs to come back, I hope we don't have the issue after November, we have the issue today, " Scott said. "What we need is somebody in Washington today to focus on the issue."

Scott also repeated his strategy for improving water quality is to invest in sending Lake Okeechobee water to the south and to convince the federal Army Corps of Engineers to fix the lake's dike.

"We do need a federal partner, we do need a federal government, which has complete control over Lake Okeechobee, we do need them to make and repair the dike, they have to do that," Scott said

News of a strong first half of 2016 in the tourism industry buoyed local leaders who were present at the governor's event at the airport.

While Collier County has not yet disclosed its numbers, but the county's tourism count in 2015 increased 3.1 percent over the year to more than 1.82 million.

Meanwhile, direct spending by visitors grew more than 8 percent to more than $1.3 billion last year, and total economic impact rose 8 percent to more than $1.95 billion. And tourist tax collections reached their highest total yet — about $21 million - in 2015.

In the first six months of 2016, Collier County saw more than 1 million visitors, down 2.7 percent from a year ago, according to a report by Tampa-based consultant Research Data Services Inc. The number of room nights booked in the first half of the year was down 4 percent year over year.

However, direct spending in Collier rose a half percent over the year to more than $832 million. With spending up, the total economic impact from visitors in Collier also increased to more than $1.24 billion

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said increased tourism statewide is felt locally.

"There's a big number of that 57 million that are finding their way to Fort Myers because there's a high quality of living here," Henderson said. "Fort Myers is a beautiful place it's a paradise ... we do love that they come here and we're setting the table for them to have a good experience and a high quality of life."

The Lee County Tourist Development Council on Thursday announced that bed tax collections were up 5.1 percent for the first six months of the year compared to 2015. The tax collection was up even though Lee's lodgings industry estimated 1.54 million guests or about 1.8 percent fewer than in January through June 2015.

Total spending by these guests reached nearly $1.3 billion. That's 2.4 percent more than estimated spending for the first two quarters of 2015.

Source : http://www.naplesnews.com/story/news/local/2016/08/12/florida-enjoying-record-breaking-tourism-governor-says/88614344/

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