County bucks Florida's tourism downturn

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Tourism is down in Florida but you wouldn’t know it from looking at Franklin County.

The state tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida posted preliminary figures from the fourth quarter and for the full year earlier this month. What it showed was that COVID-19 ended a decade of record-setting tourism numbers in Florida, with the industry seeing a 34 percent drop in visitors in 2020 compared to the prior year.

The data showed 86.714 million visitors to the state during 2020, the lowest annual total since 2010.

But, based on the collection of the two-cent lodging tax in Franklin County, the picture here is quite different.

In the first two months of the 2020-21 fiscal year, October and November, the county is running more than 58 percent ahead of 2019 numbers, with record or near-record totals in each of those months.

Numbers shared with the county commission by Tourist Development Council Director John Solomon show that in October, the county’s lodging providers brought in about $147,500 in lodging tax money, close to $60,000 more than the year before.

This was a nearly 64.6 percent hike over the previous year, and was the first time since the tax was begun in 2005 that it has brought in over $100,000 in October.

In November, which was without a Florida Seafood Festival, the lodging tax brought in nearly $86,500, a better than 51.5 percent increase over the previous year. That monthly total was second only to Nov. 2018.

The first two months of the fiscal year show that the county was running better than 58 percent ahead of last year, at that point in the calendar.

Solomon has said that a targeted advertising campaign, stressing the wide-open nature of the county, contributed to the increase.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said an estimated 20.625 million travelers to the state in the fourth quarter “exceeded our expectations,” but that the visitor count for the year might be reduced as figures are refined. Specifically, Visit Florida believes an estimated 3.236 million overseas visitors calculated by the state Revenue Estimating Conference for 2020 is about 400,000 too high.

Before the pandemic, the state estimated 1.6 million jobs were supported by tourism. The U.S. Travel Association reported four in 10 jobs lost nationally over the past year were in the leisure and hospitality industries.

According to the Visit Florida numbers, the state drew an estimated 20.62 million visitors in the fourth quarter of 2020, down 33.1 percent from the prior year. The pandemic had cut tourism by 60.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020 and 32.7 percent in the third quarter.

The 82.19 million travelers from other parts of the nation for 2020 was a 29.7 percent reduction from 2019. The 1.286 million Canadian visitors in 2020 represented a 64.5 percent year-to-year drop.

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: County bucks Florida's tourism downturn

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