More people visited Florida in Q2 than did a year ago, good news for a tourism industry that was scrambling at the time to reassure travelers that the state was largely unaffected by the giant Gulf oil spill. The Sunshine State drew 20.8 million people during the April-to-June period, compared with 20.1 million a year earlier, according to preliminary estimates released by Visit Florida.
The 3.5% increase in the statewide tourist head count comes at an awkward time for the tourism industry, which is still trying to convince the giant oil company BP LLC that it needs millions more dollars to continue promoting the state as a vacation destination to offset image problems triggered by BP’s oil spill.
In announcing the Q2 figures, Visit Florida walked a fine line between celebrating the performance and warning that the spill still poses a threat to the state’s image.
“There can be little doubt that without Governor Crist’s intense focus and our aggressive tourism-marketing efforts during May and June, the Sunshine State could easily have been looking at a very different outcome,” said Chris Thompson, the agency’s president and chief executive officer.
Florida started promotional advertising about a month after the late April explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf. That campaign was fueled by $25 million from BP, but the oil company has since rejected a state request for an additional $50 million; instead, it has distributed $7 million to those Panhandle destinations directly affected by the oil, which reached Florida’s westernmost beaches in early June.
According to Visit Florida, the number of U.S. visitors to Florida — by far the single largest bloc of travelers to the state —rose 2.4% in Q2 compared with 2009. The number of overseas visitors jumped 11.9%, while the number of Canadians grew by 10.4%.
The improvement is good for Florida’s economy but is a double-edged sword as the state and tourism industry seeking more marketing money from BP, Abe Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, told the Orlando Sentinel in the story. “On the BP side, they would say, ‘You’re not suffering, so why should we give you more money?’”
Media Monitors has been monitoring spots running in Florida for a while now: