TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) – Newly released data shows an alarming decline in international tourism interest related to the Tampa Bay area and Florida in general. While some point to President Donald Trump’s provocative rhetoric and controversial policies as a factor, most experts agree that there’s not enough evidence to connect the two.
Tourism is Florida’s top industry, bringing in 112.8 million visitors in 2016 according to Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation. In 2015, tourists spent $108.8 billion in the state, generating $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.
But new data released by the travel search engine Kayak shows flight searches from Europe are down 21% to Tampa for the summer of 2017, the biggest drop for any market in the United States.
Kayak also says flight searches from the United Kingdom, one of Florida's most important tourism sources, have “fallen off a cliff” for this coming summer. Searches from the U.K. to Tampa, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale are down close to 60%, while flight searches for Miami are down 52%.
Travelers from the U.K. account for the second largest group of international tourists visiting Florida, only Canada accounts for more.
In the Tampa Bay area, tourism accounts for a sizeable portion of the area’s economy. More than 5% of all the jobs in Tampa are tourism-related and tourism brought more than $5.6 billion dollars into the area in 2016.
“The UK is an important market for us,” said Patrick Harrison, Chief Marketing Officer of Visit Tampa Bay, which went with Visit Florida to the U.K. for a London ad campaign in January which included a complete advertising takeover of the Waterloo subway station and hosting multiple U.K. writers working for major publications to showcase the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s a tough question to answer related to the ‘Trump Slump’, if that even exists, and we have a lot of contradictory information coming in right now,” said Harrison. “Some other outlets are showing declines as well, but Adara and some of our predictive research folks are not in agreement.
“We also avoid knee-jerk reactions,” he added. “When it comes to the UK, we generally work 3-6 months out, and so far we continue to see strong interest in Tampa Bay as a destination. International visitors are only a small part of our audience but it is one we are working to grow. UK visitors account for about 100,000 international visitors we get on the Tampa side of the bay each year.”