Florida TaxWatch: Public investment in tourism paying off

Published Aug. 5, 2014

The state spends tens of millions in public dollars each year to promote tourism, and a Florida TaxWatch report released Monday showed that investment is generating new visitors, new jobs and new spending.

The business-backed institute in Tallahassee also said that the state is "well on its way" to fulfilling Gov. Rick Scott's goal of 100 million annual visitors by 2015.

"We love it when they come here and spend money," said Florida TaxWatch chief economist Jerry Parrish. "We have a lot of great tourists leaving their money in the state of Florida, and that directly reduces the tax burden on Floridians."

Florida TaxWatch said it assembled its report using data from Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing corporation, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the report, the state had a record 94.2 million visitors in 2013. That's an increase of 2.8 million tourists, or 3 percent, from the 91.5 million visitors recorded in 2012.

It was also the fourth consecutive year that the number of tourists has increased since that number dipped to 80.8 million in recession-plagued 2009.

Those 2.8 million additional visitors generated almost 76,000 new jobs in Florida, according to the report. The average annual salary is more than $43,000.

But tourism investment created more than just tourism-related jobs, Parrish said. Florida TaxWatch research showed that investing in tourism was also "indirectly" responsible for creating 37,382 jobs unrelated to tourism.

The record 94.3 million tourists who visited Florida was also notable because an increasing share of them are international visitors. The report said there were a record 11.1 million overseas visitors in 2013, an increase of 7 percent. There were also a record number of Canadian visitors, 3.7 million, which was an increase of 4 percent from the previous year.

Those overseas visitors are especially crucial to the economic success of Florida tourism.

"International tourists typically stay longer and spend more than the domestic tourist," Parrish said.

Florida TaxWatch said that the average overseas tourist spent $1,737 each and stayed an average of 10.9 nights. By comparison, the average domestic visitor spent $148 a day and stayed an average of 4.4 nights.

The state is also investing more public dollars than ever in tourism.

In fiscal year 2007, the state spent $24.7 million on tourism marketing. But in 2013, the Legislature gave Visit Florida a then-record budget of $54 million for marketing.

The state's tourism marketing budget jumped to $63.5 million in fiscal year 2014. And in the 2015 budget, which started in July, Visit Florida was given $74 million.

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But it's not just public dollars helping Florida tourism. Parrish said that for every public dollar spent to attract visitors, the private sector is spending $2.08.

"They're seeing that the state is willing to invest in both the state and private sectors' success," Parrish said. "It gives them confidence that the state of Florida understands tourism and invests in that subsector of our economy."

Times staff writer Robert Trigaux contributed to this report. Contact Jamal Thalji at or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.