Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

RECORD TOURISM YEAR; First Coast Destinations Report Uptick in Numbers, in Line with State

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

RECORD TOURISM YEAR; First Coast Destinations Report Uptick in Numbers, in Line with State

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

First Coast tourist destinations drew another record round of tourists for 2015, in line with continued record tourism figures for Florida.

Tourism offices in Duval, St. Johns and Nassau counties all report this week that 2015 saw record tourism numbers. They also report those records come on top of records from the previous year according to figures tracked by Smith Travel Research Data, which tabulates stays at hotels and impacts on restaurants.

Hotel occupancy rates increased in all three counties in 2015 including:

- Duval County had a 68.1 percent occupancy rate, up over the 2014 figure of 67 percent.

- St. Johns County had a 66.4 percent occupancy rate, up over the 2014 figure of 60.2 percent.

- Nassau County's Amelia Island had a 71.2 percent occupancy rate, up over the 2014 figure of 67.3 percent.

Early indicators from the First Coast counties show the influx of tourists had a notable economic impact.

St. Johns County estimates there was a direct impact of $1.67 billion from visitor spending in 2015. Nassau County estimated that 2015 figure was $433 million. Visit Jacksonville is still compiling its economic impact report, officials said.

St. Johns County was virtually guaranteed an uptick in tourist visits in 2015 mainly because of a barrage of events for most of the year connected to St. Augustine's 450th anniversary of its founding, which culminated in September.

"We feel strongly that the 450th and the four-year sequence of events and activities leading up to last year's anniversary significantly raised the awareness of the destination among travelers and prospective travelers," said Richard Goldman, president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau.

"That energy brought us attention and [media] coverage that our meager budget never could have purchased. …

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