Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Florida Tourism: Best Year in State History a Blockbuster Boon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Florida Tourism: Best Year in State History a Blockbuster Boon

Article excerpt

Florida is basking in the best tourism year it has ever seen.

For the first time, the number of out-of-state visitors is expected to cross the 42 million mark in 1996 - and forecasters are calling for an equally strong 1997.

A combination of factors is attracting wayfarers to the Sunshine State: a strong US economy, low unemployment, an increasing number of foreign visitors opting for Florida over California, Walt Disney World's heavily marketed 25th anniversary, new statewide attractions, and wicked winter weather across much of the country. "Florida is still considered a premier vacation destination," says Dee Ann Smith, vice president of marketing for the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation in Tallahassee. The agency expects tourism to be up about 2.5 percent in 1996 over 1995 - an indication that the industry has rebounded from the lackluster 1992 and '93 seasons, when murderous attacks on visitors turned tourists away. And that's good news for a state taking in $35 billion a year from sun worshippers and golfers. Nearly everyone is profiting. At the Ritz Carlton in Naples, where tourists bask in the sun at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, bookings are up about 7 percent over 1995. And the 463-room hotel is expecting a record winter season. At the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., near Miami, bookings increased 10 to 12 percent in 1996 over 1995. And room occupancies during the usually lackluster summer months were up. The theme parks have been packing them in, as well. Walt Disney World in Orlando, which kicked off its 25th anniversary celebration in October, has had "gangbuster" results, says spokesman Rick Sylvain. (Disney does not release attendance figures.) During Christmas week, the parking lots were full by noon. Bookings at Disney's resort hotels have also been "very, very, very strong," he adds. …

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