TAMPA — To the backdrop of screaming tourists on Busch Gardens' Cheetah Hunt roller coaster, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday said 22.9 million visitors came to Florida between July and September, a third-quarter record for the state.
He also set a goal of reaching 100 million visitors in 2013, up from the 95 million expected this year.
"We want Florida to be the No. 1 tourism destination in the world,'' he said, during an appearance outside the Crown Colony House at Busch Gardens, Tampa's top tourist destination.
The quarterly numbers, the latest in a string of records set as tourists continue to flock to Florida, represent a 1.7 percent increase over the same period a year ago.
Tourist spending in Florida reached $51.8 billion between January and August compared with $49 billion in 2012. Tourism-related jobs in those eight months rose 2.8 percent, adding 29,700 jobs since this same period a year ago.
Scott, who as governor has focused on job creation, said every 85 visitors supports one job. He gave Jim Dean, president of Busch Gardens, a Governor's Business Ambassador Award for creating jobs.
Based on the record tourism figures, the Florida Retail Federation on Friday changed its holiday shopping forecast to reflect an expected 3.5 to 4.5 percent sales increase this year over last year. Prior to Scott's announcement, the expected sales increase was 3 to 4 percent.