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Florida had more summer tourists than before the pandemic, DeSantis says

Visit Tampa Bay saw new highs in hotel collections reached this year.
Clearwater Beach resorts on Aug. 2. Florida and Tampa Bay saw tourism numbers return to pre-pandemic levels this summer.
Clearwater Beach resorts on Aug. 2. Florida and Tampa Bay saw tourism numbers return to pre-pandemic levels this summer. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Nov. 23
Updated Nov. 24

The Sunshine State had a busy summer, despite a surge of coronavirus cases.

About 32.5 million travelers visited Florida from July through September this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday. The number of tourists in the summer season exceeded 2019 by a slim 0.3 percent in comparison to the more than 37 percent drop in visitors Florida saw in 2020.

This summer was the first time the state saw gains in tourism since the coronavirus was first detected in the state — and it was primarily driven by domestic travel.

Visitors coming to Florida in the third quarter of the year from other parts of the country surpassed 2019 by 7 percent, based on estimates from the state’s tourism marketing organization, Visit Florida.

Related: The cost of the pandemic: How Tampa Bay lost billions from COVID-19

Tampa Bay also has seen a historic tourism season.

Despite Visit Tampa Bay’s revenues this fiscal year being down by more than 8 percent from 2019, the tourism agency stated that half of the months this year saw record numbers. September hotel collections hit $3 million for the first time, which beat the previous record in October 2019 by more than 17 percent, according to a statement from the agency that promotes tourism in Hillsborough County.

Pinellas County started seeing record-breaking tourist development tax revenues back in June, according to Visit St.Pete/Clearwater. St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport had its busiest month on record in July with 262,000 passengers.

Related: Canadian Snowbirds are returning to Tampa Bay

“We have been able to set these records because in Florida we kept businesses open and made sure Floridians could keep working,” DeSantis said in a statement.

There are signs Florida’s tourism rebound will continue. Hotel occupancy for the first month of Visit Tampa Bay’s fiscal year is at 67 percent, compared to 64 percent in 2019.

Looking forward, international travel is also expected to make a comeback in the winter and accelerate tourism growth in the state, Dana Young, head of the state’s tourism agency, said in a statement.

Related: Tampa Bay holiday travelers, be wary of flight delays and cancellations

Tampa International Airport has more routes now than before the pandemic and is continuing to add and restart international routes since the U.S. borders opened to foreign travelers earlier this month. Travel between Tampa and London resumed Nov. 16 and Lufthansa is launching a new brand of flights in the U.S., Eurowings Discover, to Frankfurt in December.“

Tampa International recovered from the pandemic faster than most airports. Recovery of passengers from pre-pandemic levels is 16 percent higher in Tampa than the average U.S. airport, according to numbers from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

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The holiday season will be Florida’s next big travel season to watch for records.

Tampa International Airport had nearly 75,000 passengers Sunday, the first time since March 2020. The airport estimated nearly 80,000 passengers traveling through Tampa on peak days during the holiday season, airport spokesperson Emily Nipps said.

St. Pete-Clearwater International also expects a busy holiday season. The Pinellas County airport released a statement encouraging travelers to arrange transportation, as parking is expected to meet capacity.