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The Latest In Florida Tourism: Red Tide, A 'Sports Coast' And Theme Park Expansions

Tourists at Clearwater Beach.
WUSF Public Media
More than 126 million people visited the state in 2018, making it the eighth year in a row tourism numbers climbed.

Tourism is a vital industry for our state, and Florida Matters is taking a look at how businesses fared in the wake of red tide, what's new with our theme parks, and where tourism is heading after another record-breaking year.

First we talk with Visit Sarasota County Vice President Erin Duggan.

The county saw a significant drop in hotel occupancy during the last few months of 2018 – the biggest dip in quarterly numbers since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Duggan attributes most of that to red tide. She explains how social media drew more national attention to this recent bout of red tide compared to previous years, and how the county’s tourism marketing agency highlighted Sarasota’s other attractions to continue bringing in visitors.

Despite problems like toxic algae blooms on the coasts and Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle, Florida had another record high year for tourism. More than 126 million people visited the state in 2018, making it the eighth year in a row tourism numbers climbed.

We talk about what’s working for the state with Alan Fyall, Visit Orlando Endowed Chair of Tourism Marketing and Graduate Programs’ Director at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, and Veronica Brezina, a reporter with the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

We discuss international tourism and how airports in Tampa and Orlando are expanding to accommodate more visitors.

We also focus on the increasing success of sports tourism in the state, and how Visit Pasco has decided to rebrand the county as “Florida’s Sports Coast.”

We learn about some of the new attractions coming to theme parks in Central Florida, like Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World and some record-breaking coasters under construction at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

And we talk about AirBnb’s appeal, particularly with millennials, and how the hotel industry is adapting to compete with vacation rentals.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.