Florida, where masks and most pandemic-related restrictions were shelved months ago, has seen a record-breaking resurgence in tourism this year as other major vacation destinations like New York and California continue to struggle.
According to the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, the Sunshine State had 36.1 million visitors from January to March. That’s up from 26.16 million during the first quarter of last year and 30.4 million during the same period in 2020.
It’s also up from the pre-pandemic 35.79 million who visited in the first three months of 2019.
Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, said Thursday that more travelers started visiting when Florida decided to remain open last summer during the omicron surge.
California and New York returned to heavy lockdowns during that same period, she noted.
“People crave normalcy and Florida has felt 100% normal for at least a year — no mask mandates, no vaccine passports and no pandemic-related restrictions,” Ms. Pushaw told The Washington Times in an email.
“Neither California nor New York is exceeding pre-pandemic tourism levels,” she added.
Yannis Moati, CEO of the New York City-based booking service Hotels by Day, said there are likely other factors driving the trend.
“I would challenge the idea that people are flocking to Florida because it’s more of an open state,” Mr. Moati told The Times. “I think the appeal is more a confluence of sunshine, family visits and sporting events like the recent Formula One event in Miami.”
Mr. Moati noted that New York and California are also seeing bumps in travel, although the return has been less robust than what Florida is experiencing.
“Everybody is seeing a bounce up in hotel bookings, sales and traffic from this time last year. It’s very relative because hotels everywhere in the U.S. have been hit by a massive demand,” the entrepreneur said.
Visit California estimates that the Golden State’s total number of visitors will grow to 261.7 million this year from 213.5 million last year. That remains below the 286 million who visited California in 2019.
In the Empire State, New York City’s tourism agency estimates that the Big Apple will not surpass its pre-pandemic tourism numbers until 2024. The agency says New York City had 66.6 million visitors in 2019, 32.9 million in 2021, and will have an estimated 56.4 million visitors this year.
Meanwhile, Visit Florida says the Sunshine State welcomed 1.3 million overseas travelers during the first quarter this year, an increase of nearly 169% from the same period in 2021. That included 578,000 Canadian “snowbird” tourists, a 955% spike.
“In addition to breaking more pre-pandemic records domestically, we are seeing an exponential rebound in Orlando as well as our international numbers, which we expect to continue in the months ahead,” Dana Young, Visit Florida’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
In July 2020, Walt Disney World in Orlando was the company’s first property to reopen in the U.S.
Visit Florida also reported a spike in air travel, with more than 39% of all visitors to the state traveling by plane—the highest share for air travel since the pandemic started in 2020.
Meanwhile, Florida’s quarterly hotel demand in the first quarter passed pre-pandemic levels for the first time. The number of hotel rooms sold grew by 31.4% during the first three months of the year over the same period last year, with occupancy rates increasing about 24%.
Mr. DeSantis said in a statement that the numbers defy earlier predictions that Florida’s tourism economy wouldn’t recover fully until 2024.
“Florida’s tourism industry begins 2022 with incredible strength, proving that freedom-first policies will always win, especially when combating the inept economic policies coming out of D.C.,” the governor said.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.