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With another record tourism year in sight, Florida scrambles to sustain momentum

Florida is on track for another record tourism year, reporting its best numbers ever for the second quarter and the first half of 2013.

The state's tourism industry is on an impressive run the past few years — each a record breaker — given the less-than-stellar U.S. and global rebound from the recession.

But is Florida's record-smashing performance sustainable?

Will Seccombe thinks so. Of course, it's his job to promote visitors as CEO of the state Visit Florida tourism arm. His challenge: To reach 100 million tourists a year, a goal that's getting closer but still several years away. In 2012, the number was 91.4 million.

"When you're selling dreams and vacations and memories, and the numbers are all going in the right direction, it's a lot of fun," Seccombe said Wednesday.

What do Potter, Bollywood, Copa and Star Wars have in common? They will propel Florida tourism forward. More on them later.

The good news is that mid-way through 2013, 49.6 million tourists visited Florida. But the state attracts the most visitors in the year's first quarter. Those numbers shrink thereafter. The fourth quarter attracts the fewest visitors.

Seccombe says growing tourism is all about sustaining key U.S., Canadian, European and Latin American markets, but also reaching out to new places and people.

The tourism leader credits the governor and state legislators — who for now see the tourism sector as the state's primary job machine — for generous funding. That money now lets Florida market itself year-round in most major markets. And he praises the re-investing by tourism powerhouses that keep Florida fresh to repeat visitors.

Universal Orlando is expanding its successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter with a 2014 addition. Walt Disney's U.S. theme parks set attendance records thanks to international visitors during the latest fiscal quarter. Disney is also starting to tease the public with upcoming plans for Star Wars, the rock solid franchise it bought from George Lucas. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, all part of the same company, continue to promote new things to see.

It is not just theme parks helping tourism to blossom.

Plans for the Tampa Bay area to host one of the Indian film industry's major awards weekends — the "Bollywood Oscars" — next June are "hugely significant" in opening the India tourism market "and having Florida and Tampa Bay be front and center," says Seccombe. India and China rank atop his list of potential next generation tourists flocking to Florida.

A recent decision by Panama-based Copa Airlines to fly direct to Tampa International Airport from Panama City — Copa's hub to all of Latin America's major cities — is another coup for the future of Florida tourism.

And Google's current project to photographically map all 825 miles of Florida's beaches, then stitch those digital images together, will give potential tourists by next spring an online window to every beach in the state.

It's all about momentum, which Seccombe calls a "powerful thing."

"When you got it, you can hop on and enjoy the ride," he shrugs.

"Or you can double down and work to build on it."

That's the Florida way.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Booming Florida tourism: By the numbers

201320122011
Tourists in 2nd quarter23.4 million22.8 million21.8 million
Tourists in first half of year49.6 million47.6 million45.1 million

Source: Visit Florida

With another record tourism year in sight, Florida scrambles to sustain momentum 08/14/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 7:41pm]
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