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Commentary

Florida’s vibrant travel and tourism industry

BY GUS BILIRAKIS
AND WILLIAM SECCOMBE
Special to The Tampa Tribune

Published:   |   Updated: September 13, 2013 at 04:14 PM

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When it comes to the Sunshine State, the sights, sounds and attractions are as diverse as the people who call it home. Known for its breathtaking beaches, award-winning amusement parks, historically rich cities, popular sporting venues and one-of-a-kind state forests and preserves, Florida is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to tourism and travel.

In fact, tourism and travel is the top industry in our state, employing more than 1 million Floridians and generating nearly $71.8 billion in revenue for our state. Even in these difficult economic times, Florida has attracted more visitors than ever before, setting records in both the first and second quarters of this year.

In the first half of 2013, Florida welcomed a record 49.6 million visitors — an increase of 4.2 percent. These visitors spent $33.2 billion, representing a year-over-year increase of 5.5 percent from the same period in 2012, and resulted in 30,200 more direct travel-related jobs, a 2.8 percent increase.

To put that in perspective, there are currently more people visiting the Sunshine State each day — nearly 1.7 million — than live in 12 U.S. states, and they spend nearly $196 million a day in our state.

As the only Florida member of Congress on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, which oversees travel and tourism issues, and the president of VISIT Florida, the state’s chief marketing arm for tourism and travel, we are working together to find ways we can continue to grow Florida’s share in this vibrant, dynamic industry.

Nationally, tourism and travel is the largest industry and service export, fueling one in every eight jobs. Each overseas visitor to the United States spends almost $4,300. According to the U.S. Travel Association, international travelers to the United States directly support about 1.2 million American jobs and wages that total more than $28 billion. As our economy looks to rebound, the travel and tourism sectors provide an opportunity for American growth and prosperity.

Last week, we joined with industry leaders in the Tampa Bay area to discuss ways tourism and travel can play a larger role in both Florida and the national economies. To best position Florida to attract more visitors, as well as additional revenue from their travel, we must modernize inbound travel policies in the United States. A number of promising proposals currently before Congress include encouraging increased visitation from allied countries that meet specific security benchmarks, reducing visa wait times and expanding the highly successful Global Entry Program to allow Customs and Border Protection personnel to focus inspection resources where truly needed.

Additionally, as Brand USA nears its statutory sunset date, Congress has begun to examine ways to help the entity increase its efficiency and effectiveness and to increase America’s competitiveness in the global travel market.

It is our hope that by working with both our public and private partners and industry leaders, we can pave a better and brighter future for Florida — all while exposing more people and businesses to the Sunshine State.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, represents the 12th Congressional District, which includes all of Pasco and northern parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. William Seccombe is president and CEO of VISIT Florida.

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