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Tourism has dipped in Florida; reasons why vary depending on who you ask

Critics cite the state's political climate, tourism officials cite a change in consumer habits.
Photos: Southwest Florida sunsets Fall 2017
Posted at 6:23 PM, Sep 05, 2023

Depending on who you ask, Florida’s tourism industry is either on a record-setting pace or is in decline.

It’s true that more people visited in the Sunshine State in the first six months of 2023 than ever before — more than 70 million tourists.

It’s also true that in the second quarter nearly 400,000 fewer people visited compared to the year before, a roughly 1.2% drop according to Visit Florida.

Once again, the reasons behind the drop vary.

“It’s exactly what we said would happen,” said Todd Sears, CEO of Out Leadership, a national LGBTQ business network.

Sears has been warning of what he calls economic consequences for months. He cites the state’s current political climate as the reason fewer visitors have come to Florida recently.

Several national civil rights organizations, like the NAACP and Equality Florida, have issued travel advisories, urging people not to come to the Sunshine State.

At least 13 national conventions have pulled out of the state, many of them citing the state’s current political climate.

The Governor’s office has called the canceled conventions “nothing more than a media-driven stunt.”

“Imagine the economic consequences three, four, five years from now if these policies aren’t reversed and DeSantis stays in power,” Sears said.

But Stacy Ritter with Visit Lauderdale said there’s no reason to be spooked by the slowdown in visits.

"We figured that we would start to even out and become more manageable, because the numbers from ‘22 were just not sustainable,” Ritter said.

Instead, she said many tourists are choosing to go overseas, which wasn’t an option at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AAA says international bookings have skyrocketed by 44% year-over-year.

"For a couple of years, we were the only place you could come with no competition,” Ritter said. “People came and they came back and back again. But now they can go everywhere."