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Florida tourism sets record in 2012

Tourists pack Clearwater Beach last September. Leisure and tourism was the fastest-growing industry in Florida in 2012, based on job creation data released last month. 
Published Feb. 19, 2013

Florida's tourism triumph is official.

Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing corporation, said a record 89.3 million visitors came to the state in 2012, up 2.3 percent from the prior year. The number of jobs directly related to travel also hit a record 1.03 million.

"Welcoming 2 million more visitors in 2012 marks the second consecutive record year for tourism in the Sunshine State," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement as he released the figures Monday morning. "With the hospitality sector ending the year up 30,300 jobs, it's clear that more visitors means more jobs for Florida families."

Two other records notched last year: The state drew 10.2 million overseas visitors, a 9 percent jump from a year ago, and 3.6 million Canadian visitors, up 7.3 percent.

Leisure and tourism was the fastest-growing industry in Florida in 2012, based on job creation figures released last month.

Smith Travel Research data show Florida tourism gaining market share since January 2012, outpacing the national average. Room revenue was up 7.6 percent in Florida, compared with the nationwide increase of 7.3 percent, Smith Travel reported.

Tampa Bay played a major role in the surge, thanks in part to the Republican National Convention in August, pent-up travel demand and attractions such as Winter, the celebrity dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Pinellas County started off the year strong — with March being the most lucrative month for tourism tax dollars in county history — while the RNC and its aftermath helped fill hotel rooms during the offseason months of August and September.

"2012 was the biggest bed tax collection year ever. We were up on all levels," said D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

It may be too early to forecast whether the streak will continue. But Minich said he likes what he sees so far, with strong advance bookings for the season as well as a solid lineup of meeting and convention business.

"2013 is looking very good," Minich said.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8242.

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