Florida takes tourism hit

Two million fewer visitors came to Florida last year than in 2007, the first year-to-year decline since 2001, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourist marketing agency.

The estimated total of 82.5-million visitors represented a 2.4 percent decline from a year earlier. Florida tourism started the year strongly, then tanked as the global economic crisis, home foreclosures and job cuts caused vacationers and businesses to pull back on travel plans. In the last three months of the year, the number of visitors dropped 2.6-million, or 13.5 percent, from 2007.

"The fourth quarter of 2008 reflects the full impact of the economic downturn that everyone in the industry is facing,'' said Visit Florida chief executive Bud Nocera in a prepared statement. He noted that destinations such as Las Vegas, California and Hawaii reported fourth quarter visitor declines as high as 16 percent.

The announced comes a week after Pinellas tourism officials learned that 106,000 fewer visitors spent at least one night in the county last year than in 2007. The total of nearly 5.2 million was 2 percent below a year earlier. That marked the first year-to-year decline since 2002, when visitor numbers fell 0.2 percent in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Florida takes tourism hit 02/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 8:52am]

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