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Florida reports record-breaking tourism numbers as a post-COVID rebound continues

aerial view of pier and docked boats
Leaders attribute the uptick in visits to Tampa Bay to the uniqueness of the area and out-of-towners visiting loved ones, among other reasons.

A record 36 million people visited Florida in the first quarter of 2022.

A new report from Visit Florida shows the state's tourism industry continues to rebound.

A record 36 million people visited Florida in the first quarter of 2022.

That continues an upward trend for the state that was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of visitors was up 39.6 percent from the first quarter of 2021 — before vaccines were more widely available, about 19.3 percent higher than the first quarter of 2020 when the pandemic first hit, and more than 1.3 percent above the pre-pandemic first quarter of 2019.

Mackenzie Comerer, the senior media relations manager for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, said both Pinellas County and the entire greater Tampa Bay region reported increases in tourism.

"We did see growth last spring as well," she said. "I think people are ready to get out. I think we're a destination that's approachable in price if you're comparing us to maybe some other destinations in Florida."

And Santiago Corrada, the President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said Hillsborough County's numbers are surpassing even pre-pandemic levels.

"We could be close to a billion dollars in hotel revenue in this calendar year, which quite honestly we had set a goal to do that by 2025, and we had set that goal before the pandemic," he said.

He attributes some of that success to the uniqueness of the area.

Comerer said there are multiple reasons for the performance, such as a large number of spring breakers.

But not all the visitors were tourists, she added.

"Maybe someone's mom or dad moved here, but they didn't purchase a home that has multiple rooms," she said. "And so when they're visiting their family, they're having to stay at a hotel nearby. So I think visitors in terms of spring break, coupled with visiting friends and family, just played a huge role in the increases we're seeing."

Much of the state's growth — 95 percent, according to Visit Florida stats — was seen in new domestic tourists who could not leave the country due to the pandemic.

Comerer expects, even as international travel restrictions are lifted, tourists will keep coming back to Florida.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.