A record-breaking 31.1 million tourists visited Florida during the first quarter of 2017, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2016’s level, Gov. Rick Scott announced on Monday.
The record growth isn’t limited to the state’s tourism hot spots — like Orlando and Miami.
Palm Beach County has also seen its hotel occupancy climb this year. During the first quarter of 2017, the countywide occupancy rate stood at 83.9 percent, up about 1 percent over last year’s level, tourism officials said.
Despite the record growth, Scott continued to warn that cuts to the state’s tourism marketing budget threaten the industry and could cost jobs throughout the state.
The legislature last week approved an $83 billion budget that sets aside $25 million for the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida — a $50 million cut from the agency’s 2016 spending plan. Scott has not yet signed the budget.
“This historic number would not have been possible without the significant funding we have invested in Visit Florida over the past few years,” Scott said. “It is disappointing that the Florida Legislature made a shortsighted decision to jeopardize the growth of our tourism industry and the 1.4 million jobs that rely on it by cutting funding to Visit Florida by 67 percent.”
Given the potential cuts, Palm Beach County tourism officials have said they will look for more ways to partner with industry businesses, attractions and local government groups to showcase the area as an international vacation and meetings destination.
Tourism is one of the county’s largest industries, contributing more than $7 billion to the local economy. Since 2010, the number of tourists who travel to the county has grown by 65 percent.
A record-breaking 7.4 million visitors came here in 2016, a 5.8 increase over 2015’s level. It marked the eighth consecutive year of tourism growth in the county.
But after years of growth, the county’s industry is showing some signs of slowing.
Although tourism tax collections are up about 2.6 percent for the budget year, the county had projected 3.5 percent growth this year.