TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A massive and deadly hurricane didn't blow away the draw of the Sunshine State during the third quarter of the year, according to Florida tourism officials.
Gov. Rick Scott and Visit Florida announced Monday that 27.9 million tourists came to the state from July 1 through Sept. 30, despite Hurricane Irma, which closed the Florida Keys for most of September, caused major flooding in some areas and shuttered Central Florida amusement parks for several days.
The third-quarter tourism numbers represented a 3.3 percent increase compared to the same period in 2016 --- which also was a trying time.
During the third quarter of 2016, the state dealt with the aftermath of a massacre in Orlando, the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus and a hurricane hitting North Florida.
In announcing the numbers Monday, Visit Florida said the state had a 2.4 percent increase in traffic at major airports during the third quarter compared to the same period in 2016. Also, sales of hotel rooms were up 4.7 percent in the quarter --- which included an estimated 6.5 million Floridians leaving their homes because of Irma --- compared to the year before.
Irma slammed into the Florida Keys on Sept. 10 before making a second landfall in Collier County and then traveling up the state.
Scott pushed to reopen the Keys to visitors by an Oct. 1 deadline, but some tourism businesses in the Keys are still getting back to business.
The storm-ravaged Islamorada Resort Company is slowly staggering the return of its four properties, noting Monday that Amara Cay Resort will be the first to welcome visitors starting Dec. 15.
The company's Pelican Cove Resort & Marina is scheduled to reopen Jan. 12, while work continues with no set reopening for Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina and La Siesta Resort & Marina.
About 89 percent of Florida's third-quarter visitors this year were domestic travelers, another 9.3 percent were from overseas and nearly 2 percent from Canada.
The quarterly projection also brought to 88.2 million the number of people traveling to Florida in the first nine months of this year, a 3.3 percent hike from the same period in 2016.
The state drew 112.8 million tourists during all of last year, and Scott and the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida continue to seek 120 million this year.
Lawmakers this spring agreed to provide $76 million to Visit Florida after a battle about its funding. Scott has asked lawmakers to approve $100 million in 2018 for the public-private agency, pointing to Hurricane Irma as a need for the increase.
“You've got to let people know our beaches are open, our restaurants are open, our hotels are open, our amusement parks are open, so we keep our tourists coming because 1.4 million jobs are tied to tourism,” Scott said last week after introducing his budget recommendations for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.