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Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Is state the world's top travel destination?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office recently blasted out a news release chock full of statistics about tourism in Florida including this phrase:

"As we move toward our third consecutive year of record tourism growth, it is clear why the Sunshine State remains the top travel destination across the world," stated the Nov. 15 news release.

The "top travel destination across the world"? Is the home state of Mickey Mouse kicking the derriere of tourist hot spots like France? We went on a virtual trip to find out.

We asked a spokesman for Scott for an explanation as to how he arrived at his claim. John Tupps said Scott was simply expressing a personal opinion that Florida is the best place to visit in the whole world, not making a quantitative statement.

"The governor truly believes Florida is the 'top travel destination' in the world," Tupps said in an email. "It's his personal view."

We thought Scott's wording went further than a personal opinion, though, so we decided to put his statement on the Truth-O-Meter. We soon found that comparing tourism statistics is tricky, because various states and countries use different methodologies to count visitors.

Visit Florida, a quasi-state agency, counts out-of-state, overnight visitors. By that measurement, Florida had 91.5 million visitors in 2012.

In California in 2012, there were 61 million out-of-state overnight trips. New York had about 62 million overnight out-of-state visitors in 2011, the most recent year available.

So in state-to-state competition, Florida wins on the metric that Visit Florida uses.

But the picture changes when we look around the world.

According to the U.N.'s World Tourism Organization, in 2012 there were 83 million international visitors to France, compared with the United States in second place with 67 million.

So on the metric of international visitors, France is clearly leading Florida.

"We continue to say our goal is to beat France," said Kathy Torian, a spokeswoman for Visit Florida.

Still, the comparison of Florida with France is tricky, because France is a country and Florida is a state. Florida's 19 million population is about one-third the size of France's population of about 66 million.

Also, many Europeans travel to France just for a weekend, or visitors book a short stay in France, and then move on to other European destinations. So France may not be as dominant as its visitor counts make it appear.

Comparing the number of visitors is not the only way to compare tourism rankings. We could also examine the amount of money spent by visitors.

And while France is No. 1 in the number of international visitors, it tumbles behind the United States and Spain when you consider spending, the Associated Press reported:

"International visitors spent more than double in the U.S. than they did in France in 2012 — $126.2 billion, compared to $53.7 billion, according to the U.N.'s World Tourism Organization. That despite the fact that France welcomed 20 percent more tourists."

The U.S. Travel Association reports that travel spending was $71.5 billion in Florida in 2011. That amount lags behind California, at $105 billion in 2011. Both those numbers top France's $53.7 billion in 2012. But to Scott's point, those spending numbers still don't put Florida in the No. 1 position.

While touting Florida's tourism numbers, Scott said, "The Sunshine State remains the top travel destination across the world."

There isn't one simple way to declare "the" top travel destination in the world. But Scott's claim would probably elicit a "mais non!" from Scott's counterparts in France, who can boast to being the undisputed global leader of international tourists.

Scott is clearly a cheerleader for his own state, but the data to back up his claim is murky and difficult to substantiate. We rate the claim Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

Florida "remains the top travel destination across the world."

Gov., Rick Scott, Nov. 15 in a news release

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Mostly False
There isn't one simple way to declare "the" top travel destination in the world. But Scott's claim would probably elicit a "mais non!" from Scott's counterparts in France, who can boast to being the undisputed global leader of international tourists. We rate the claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact Florida: Is state the world's top travel destination? 12/01/13 [Last modified: Sunday, December 1, 2013 8:37pm]

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