Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

More Travelers Are on Their Way | despite Zika and Storms, Experts Still Expecting Strong Tourism Numbers

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

More Travelers Are on Their Way | despite Zika and Storms, Experts Still Expecting Strong Tourism Numbers

Article excerpt

TOURISM INDUSTRY

ORLANDO -- Hurricanes, international economic instability and the Zika virus are no match for the Florida tourism industry.

Experts at the Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism on Thursday were still anticipating another year of growth, even with the surge of negative headlines that the Sunshine State has fielded this year.

Even as Orlando, one of the state's top destinations, struggled in the second quarter, the state as a whole still pushed forward and continued to break records, said Paul Phipps, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, the state's tourism promotions agency.

Florida has broken its annual tourism records for five consecutive years with hand-over-fist percentage increases of 7 and 8 percent. That boom is expected to slow in the next few years with 2-2.5 percent increases, said Chris Pike, director of impact studies at the market analysis firm Tourism Economics, who spoke at the conference.

But that's not necessarily a sign of struggle: It is a natural progression after several years of strong growth. Florida would need a dynamic increase in capacity for tourists to see more significant growth.

"I think we see kind of a

growth plateau happening," Pike said. "I think we're going to get back really what's closer to the norm."

Florida welcomed 106.6 million out-of-state and international visitors who put $89.1 billion back into the state's economy in fiscal year 2015-2016, according to Visit Florida. Southwest Florida, too, has been breaking records. Sarasota County for the first time in 2015 welcomed more than one million visitors.

Negative headlines aren't necessarily the kiss of death for a tourism market, Pike said. Even when hurricanes chase away potential travelers, hotels and restaurants can make up some of that loss by housing the out-of-town utility crews brought in to repair the damage.

A small no-travel zone, like what's been declared for Zika, may discourage some travelers, but it may also draw in more travelers with a greater understanding of the geographic area. The visitor profile may change under turmoil, but that doesn't necessarily mean that visitors stop coming altogether, Pike said.

"Despite Brexit, despite Zika, numbers are still really strong," Pike said. …

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