SARASOTA, Fla. — Whether it's for the white sandy beaches with turquoise waters or a piece of the Magic Kingdom, tourists are trooping to Florida at record rates.
According to recent data released by the state, Florida welcomed just about 36 million visitors in the first three months of the year. That amount of visitors surpassed pre-pandemic numbers and is nearly 40% higher than the first quarter of last year.
According to tourism industry experts and stakeholders, the influx of travelers is owed to the state's open door pandemic policy as well as travelers opting for a domestic destination instead of going abroad.
"Florida has fun in the sun and they say this is where the action happens," Linda Griswold said.
Griswold and millions of other travelers want in on that action that has kept Florida's tourism industry thriving despite a lull experienced in other places because of the pandemic.
Many of them are ending up in Sarasota where the number of tourists visiting the county is up 3.2%, according to Visit Sarasota. Beach destinations in Sarasota like Siesta Key and Lido Key are consistently popular for visitors.
"People are looking for a getaway in places that are really more than just a beach trip," Virginia Haley of Visit Sarasota said. "Our state parks, our county parks, our natural lands, and then, of course, all the cultural opportunities like opera, ballet, the theater that all got started again this year after a two-year absence."
Visit Florida says 95% of the people coming to Florida are from out-of-state with 1.3 million being international travelers.
"Florida is dominating in the recovery, not only within the U.S. but globally. We are ahead of everyone," Dana Young, CEO of Visit Florida, said.
Local businesses and hotels are also making a windfall from the growth including the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) which has recently been seeing consistent jumps in passenger traffic from month to month.
According to a statement from the airport's management, in the month of April, 386,013 passengers took flights to and from SRQ. That passenger traffic reflects a 31% increase over the number of passengers who went through in April 2021. So far this year, the total number of passengers who have traveled through the airport is 1,471,513 which is a 71.5% jump compared to 858,231 for the same time frame in 2021.
"We have had more passengers use our airport in the first four months of this year than we typically see for an entire calendar year," Rick Piccolo, President, and CEO of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport stated. "This unprecedented growth continues for our region and the airport. Nationwide, many airlines have reduced their summer schedules due to pilot shortages and rising fuel prices and we will see some of those impacts here. With high demand and fewer flights, people need to plan their travel this summer early while seat inventory and discount pricing are still available."
"It is easier more than ever to get to Sarasota," Haley said. "Our airport now has more than 50 cities with direct flights right into our backyard."
According to the state, the number of hotel rooms sold grew by 31% in the first quarter while the average daily rate was also up by nearly 40%.
To help net in more tourism dollars, Sarasota County, just last month voted to raise its tourism development tax or bed tax from 5% to 6%. The revenue generated from that levy helps to fund beach maintenance, recreational amenities and promoting tourism.