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Canadian tourism on rebound in Florida

Visits were up 19.3 percent for the first quarter of the year, with spending up 24 percent, state officials say. That ends a recent drop.

Reversing a three-year decline, Canadian tourism made a comeback in the winter, state tourism officials said Tuesday.

During the first quarter of the year, more than 853,000 Canadians came to Florida, a 19.3 percent increase over last year, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.

And they spent more: State officials estimate Canadians' economic impact during the first quarter at $553-million, up 24 percent from a year earlier.

Pinellas tourism statistics reflect the trend. Canadian tourism was up a mere 1.6 percent during the first four months of the year in Pinellas, but the spring and summer season started off with a bang: a 22 percent increase for May and June.

July numbers are to be released today.

"There clearly has been a recovery of the Canadian market," said Walter Klages, whose Tampa company, Research Data Services, compiles the statistics for the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The tourism numbers reflect only short-term visitors, who are more prevalent in the Panhandle and some other parts of Florida than in Pinellas, which attracts more "snowbirds" who stay for several months.

The decline in Canadian tourism during the past three years coincided with a drop in the value of the Canadian dollar, now worth about 68 cents, slightly more than last year.