Maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder. Following nearly three years of declining numbers, Canadian visits to Florida are very nearly back to 2019 levels, tourism officials have announced.
Speaking to media on 02FEB at this year’s Florida Huddle tourism event in West Palm Beach, VISIT FLORIDA executives said a surge in Canadian visits to the Sunshine State last fall resulted in 1.04 million visits from Canada. That’s just 4.5 per cent below the fourth quarter figure of 1.09 million for 2019. It’s also the first quarter since the start of the pandemic that saw Florida attract more than a million Canadians.
That’s great news for a state where Canadians account for roughly one-third of all international visitors.
"Getting Canada Back is Critical"
“Clearly getting Canada back is critical, not only just for our visitation numbers, but because Canada is very special to Florida and we have so many Canadian snowbirds who come and spend five or six months with us and really become integrated in our community,” VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young said in response to a question from Open Jaw, one of only two Canadian media outlets at this year’s event.
“We have missed them, and so now I feel we’re getting the snowbirds back, we’re getting the leisure travellers back, we’re getting the business travellers back.”
“It’s this close to pre-pandemic numbers,” said Jacob Pewitt Yancey, director of consumer insights and analytics for VISIT FLORIDA, holding his thumb and finger close together in the air. “All indications are that this winter’s numbers will be very strong.”
Yancey said his Florida Huddle report represents the first time 2022 visitation numbers were disclosed to the public.
Although fourth quarter numbers were strong, Canadian visits to Florida in the first nine months of the year weren’t as positive. For 2022 as a whole, Florida reeled in 2.79 million Canadian visitors. That’s miles ahead of the meager 454,000 visitors in 2021 and substantially ahead of the 1.48 million Canadian travellers in 2020, but only about two-thirds of the 4.09 million Canadian visits Florida notched in 2019.
Canadian Interest in Travel to the U.S. Dropped, But Florida Still on Top
One of the most interesting slides Yancey put on the big screen at the press event was one showing Canadian consumer interest in visiting the United States. In March of 2018, 61 per cent of Canadians said they were interested in wandering south of the border. In June of 2018 that was down to 52 per cent, and then all the way down to 44 per cent in June of 2020. By December of 2021, that figure had crept up to 48 per cent. As of November of last year, polls found that 47 per cent of Canadians were interested in visiting the U.S.
Asked last November what state they’d most likely visit, 49 per cent said Florida. That compares with 48 per cent for New York state, 39 per cent for California, 27 per cent for Hawaii, 24 per cent for Nevada and 15 per cent for both Arizona and Texas. Another 14 per cent of Canadians cited Washington D.C., followed by Louisiana (12 per cent), Colorado (11) and Illinois (11).
Orlando is usually at the top of Canada’s Florida bucket list, but in the latest poll Canadians gave Miami the top score. Forty eight per cent of Canadians said Miami is their top Florida destination, compared to 43 per cent for Orlando. Those two tourism giants were followed by Fort Lauderdale (31 per cent), The Florida Keys (30), Palm Beach (30), The Tampa Bay Area (19), Daytona Beach (18), Fort Myers/Naples (13), Jacksonville/Saint Augustine (11), The Space Coast (10), The Treasure Coast north of Palm Beach (9), the Sarasota area (9), The Florida Panhandle (8), Tallahassee (8) and Ocala (4).
Another slide showed that Canadian visits to Florida are larger than visits from the next four most important countries on the list; the UK, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.
Staying Connected with Canada
Young is clearly paying attention to her neighbours to the north.
“I was in Vancouver right before Christmas and got to celebrate the launch of the new Air Canada flight, the direct flight from Vancouver to Miami,” she said. “Having gone on a non-direct flight from Tampa to Vancouver I can tell you the direct flight was needed. Now all of western Canada, if they can get to Vancouver, they have the ability to get to Florida more quickly than they would be able to get to Hawaii, which is their traditional warm weather vacation spot.
“I think that’s huge. And I was just in Toronto a few weeks ago, and the enthusiasm for Florida vacations was palpable. I think Canadians are just ready to get back here.”
Young said VISIT FLORIDA is constantly running fam tours for Canadian agents and is partnering with Air Canada to promote the Vancouver-Miami route.
“We’re always working to train tour operators and agents on Florida in general and what’s new. And we have our new modules on Florida Travel Pro. We’re constantly showcasing new parts of the state.”
VISIT FLORIDA officials said they also partnerships with Air Miles, Travelzoo, WestJet and WestJet Vacations.
SEE OPEN JAW'S INTERVIEW WITH VISIT FLORIDA'S DANA YOUNG IN TORONTO IN JAN:
More Happenings at the Florida Huddle
This year’s Florida Huddle kicked off with a splashy, poolside party at the West Palm Beach Hilton hotel. The next two days will result in thousands and thousands of business meetings and trade talks.
“It’s the most successful Florida Huddle we’ve had, certainly since I’ve been here,” Young said. “We have a record number of international buyers, 186. We had 51 on the waiting list, and we have 18 countries represented.”
Yancey said potential problems remain for Florida, including delays of sometimes 500-600 days for visas from would-be visitors from some countries. Political issues abroad and economic issues also are a problem.
Asked if Florida tourism officials are worried about inflation impacting visitation, Milton Segarra, Chief Marketing Officer for Discover The Palm Beaches, said his destination has 18,000 hotel rooms, with “all levels” of pricing.
Young said she spoke this week to a member of the VISIT FLORIDA board who owns dozens of hotels in the state.
“He told me rates have dropped, significantly in some cases.”
“There could be an opportunity for correction,” she said. “But people are still coming, and Florida seems to have a resiliency about it that’s above and beyond a lot of destinations.”