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Tourism business up 4 percent in 2015 to $108 billion, VISIT Florida reports

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Florida’s tourism economy grew by nearly 4 percent in 2015 and brought almost $109 billion worth of economic activity to the Sunshine State, according to a new survey released by VISIT Florida Wednesday.

The growth was slower than was seen in the previous five years but still added $4.1 billion in new money to the state’s economy, according to the “Economic Impact of Out of State Tourist Spending In Florida” study produced for VISIT Florida by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company.

Still, the 3.9 percent growth in the tourism economy for Florida exceeded the full state’s economic growth, just as the sector has run ahead of the statewide economic growth every year since at least 2010, according to the report.

New VISIT Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson said the study offers a “much more comprehensive and accurate picture of the true economic impact of Florida’s out-of-state visitor spending, and what it tells us is that the tourism industry is driving the growth of the Florida economy.”

Among the specific highlights of looking at 2015 compared to previous years:

– The direct, indirect and induced impacts of out-of-state tourism in Florida generated $11.3 billion in state and local taxes and $13.1 billion in federal taxes in 2015.

– Out-of-state visitor spending supported an estimated 1.4 million Florida jobs directly or indirectly, generating $50.7 billion in activity. The sector represented 17.3 percent of the state’s total non-farm employment. Of those jobs, 852,000 are directly supported by tourism. That was also up 3.9 percent in 2015, or an additional 32,000 jobs.

– All business sectors of the Florida economy benefited from tourism activity either directly or indirectly through increased sales to local firms who supply the tourism industry or through increased sales to local firms by resident spending of income they earned in tourism.

– Per-tourist spending also increased, requiring fewer total tourists per tourism job.

There were a few small clouds mixed in with the sunshine.

The growth declined slightly in 2015 compared with that of previous years; the increase was 6 percent in 2014 and 8 percent in 2013. Visitors cut back on retail spending and local transportation, the latter partly due to the drop in gas prices; both of those sub-sectors declined in 2015. Spending by international visitors, particularly those from Canada, fell sharply in 2015, partly due to the value of the U.S. dollar.

The tourism jobs also continued to be typically low-paying. Across the four largest sub-sectors that directly benefited from out-of-state tourism – the food and beverage industry, the recreation and entertainment industry, the lodging industry, and the retail industry, which combined for 748,000 of the 852,000 direct jobs – the average job provided just under $28,400 apiece in annual pay, according to data in the study.

Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and a VISIT Florida board member, credited Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature, the private sector and VISIT Florida for spurring the growth in the tourism industry, saying it is not a fluke.

“The study proves collective investment and collaboration amongst public and private sectors effectively promotes economic prosperity for all Floridians,” Dover stated in the news release.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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