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Visitors to Florida -- 75.6 million of Them --  
a 2.5% Increase Over 2002
By Dana Sanchez, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Mar. 2, 2004 - Visitors to Florida -- 75.6 million of them -- traveled here in record-breaking numbers in 2003, according to an announcement by Gov. Bush, who serves as chairman of the Florida Commission on Tourism. 

The number of visitors arriving by air versus land increased sharply in the fourth quarter to 49.9 percent, up from 41.2 percent in the third quarter. 

And 2004 is looking good, with summer bookings already further ahead than they were this time last year, local resort owners and listing agents said. 

Florida saw a 2.5 percent increase in visitors to the state in 2003, with an estimated 69.9 million domestic visitors (from the United States). That exceeded the previous record set in 2002. Canadian visitors were up nearly 6 percent over the previous year. 

Overseas visitors declined 1.1 percent for the year. But the fourth quarter showed a 6.1 percent increase in overseas visitors, signifying a possible change in trend since 9-11. 

According to preliminary, end-of-year data from Visit Florida, the state's official tourism marketing corporation, domestic visitors were up 3.4 percent for the fourth quarter of 2003 and Canadian visitors were up 7.8 percent. 

Expanded airline schedules offered by low fare carriers and increased service to some Florida airports were partly responsible for increased air travel to the state. 

"So much time has passed since the tragedy of 9-11 that people are willing to get in planes," said Kathy Jones, Florida coordinator at The Massachusetts-based vacation home rental business recently expanded to cover Florida's west coast and the Panhandle. 

Visitors who arrive by air tend to stay longer and spend more while they are here, according to Visit Florida. 

Manatee County tourism fared better than other parts of Florida since 9-11 because it is a largely a drive-to destination, said Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

"We certainly didn't see an increase in air travel in this market," White said. "Airport statistics show that is not true in this area." 

Almost 70 percent of Manatee County visitors drive here. Of the 30 percent who fly, 67 percent come in from Tampa, according to Bureau statistics. 

"We had a terrific fiscal 2003, overwhelmingly because of the drive market we enjoy," White said. 

And visitors not only continue to drive here, but they're driving greater distances than before, White said. 

Summer is already half booked-up at Anna Maria Beach Place in Holmes Beach, said Dennis Rauschl, a resort owner. 

"The people close to me are also having good years," Rauschl said. "I don't know of any exceptions." 

In Manatee County, European tourism is strong in the fall when Americans are going back to school. Rauschl enjoys a high European repeat rate at his resort. 

But summer is his best season, and most summer visitors drive to the area. 

"It's primarily people from Lakeland, Orlando, Atlanta," he said. "Out-of-state visitors are up, but in-state is very good." 

-----To see more of The Bradenton Herald -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to 

(c) 2004, The Bradenton Herald, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. 


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