(February 19, 2015) - Tourism business is booming in Florida, and what better place to talk about it than at a growing airport?
Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a press conference at Tampa International this week to announce that the state broke a record in 2014 by attracting 97.3 million visitors, nearly 4 percent more than 2013. And he doesn’t see the pace slowing.
"We're not going to stop," Scott said. "We're going to be over 100 million tourists in 2015."
Scott pointed out that record 1.14 million Floridians were employed in jobs related to the industry in 2014, bringing a clear and measurable economic benefit to the state. He introduced one of those workers – TPA Guest Services Representative Tim Abbott – as an example of someone who recently lost his job, began volunteering at TPA and now has a full-time position helping customers while the airport is under construction.
“If you listen to people around the airport, they’ll say that one of the reasons this airport is doing so well is because you have a great guest services team here,” Scott said. “Tim and the others here do a great job.
TPA CEO Joe Lopano, alongside Aviation Authority board chairman Robert Watkins, hosted the conference and kicked off the introduction by pointing out TPA’s own success with growth.
“Together our board, the airport team and our community partners have really created great success for us on the tourism front,” Lopano said, pointing out the recently launched nonstop Silver flights to the Bahamas and upcoming nonstop Lufthansa flights to Germany. “Since 2010, our international traffic has grown 52 percent. With our numbers growing, we’re transforming an airport that has transformed our community.”
“Gov. Scott has doubled investments in VISIT FLORIDA and he’s doubled investments in airport spending. Without the Governor’s support, we would not have been able to get a $194 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. That has been critical in helping us fund this expansion project, and I want to say thank you, Gov. Scott.”
VISIT FLORIDA CEO and President Will Seccombe pointed out that not only were more hotel rooms full in 2014, but people were spending more per room as well. Like Scott, he envisioned an even better year ahead.
“I have no doubt that with the great partnerships we have statewide and the best tourism product in the world, really visionary leadership from Gov. Scott and the Florida legislature and an amazing private sector working together, those 97.3 visitors are going home happy and telling incredible stories about their experiences in the state of Florida,” Seccombe said.
Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada and Visit St. Pete Clearwater CEO David Downing echoed the tales of booming tourism in their own counties. Corrada said that in Hillsborough, hotels reached 70 percent occupancy for the first time in county history and generated a record $540 million in gross revenue, up 14.8 percent from the previous year. He attributed that growth to more visitors coming year-round instead of only during peak seasons.
“Yes, it means economic development and it means growth,” Corrada said, pointing out some of Tampa’s newest hotels and restaurants, such as Ulele, Epicurean Hotel and Le Meridien.
“Those mean construction jobs and then permanent jobs in our hotel industry. That’s why it’s important.”
Downing said Pinellas hit a record with 5.9 million tourists staying in hotels in 2014, a trend that has continued for five years despite having the same general amount of hotel space.
He stressed the importance of partnerships in attracting worldwide interest, including Hillsborough and Pinellas officials working together to help TPA attract new international service.
“Those flights that Joe mentioned with Lufthansa, with Edelweiss, with Copa,” Downing said. “Both parties came to the table to make those happen because we realized regionalism will grow the pie for everyone.”
Lopano concluded the press conference by thanking Gov. Scott for his support of tourism and economic growth and thanking TPA’s partners for contributing to the region’s upswing in visitors.
Tampa International Airport had 5.5 percent more passengers come through in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 than last year, with the number of international passengers up 19.2 percent.
“We are in a great place at a great time,” Lopano said.