A record number of tourists flocked to Florida last year as the nation's economy continued its recovery after the Great Recession.
Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday during a visit to Tampa International Airport that more than 97 million people visited the state last year, according to estimates prepared by VisitFlorida, the state's tourism marketing arm.
That's the fourth year in a row that the state has had a record number of tourists come to the state. Most of the visitors were from the United States, but millions also came from overseas and from Canada.
"We are excited to announce that Florida welcomed more than 97 million visitors in 2014, marking the fourth consecutive record year for tourism in the Sunshine State," Gov. Scott said in a statement. "Not only are visitors coming to our state at record levels, but there are also a record number of Floridians employed in our tourism industry.
"Florida’s natural beauty, pristine beaches and exciting attractions continue to bring countless visitors to our state and provide valuable jobs for our families."
Despite the record year of 97.3 million tourists Florida fell a little bit short of reaching Scott's goal of having 100 million tourists visit in 2014. Nearly 94 million people visited the state the previous year.
VisitFlorida, the state's tourism marketing company, estimates that 11.5 million visitors were from overseas and 3.8 million tourists came from Canada. Those are increases over 2013 as well.
State officials told a legislative committee last year that Florida is "growing at the expense of our competition" as Americans are shifting away from visiting other places to come to Florida.
Since becoming governor, Scott has pushed to increase the amount of money spent on marketing and advertising by VisitFlorida. This year he is seeking an increase of $17.5 million. It's not clear, however, if state legislators will go along with the request.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater and chairman of the committee that oversees VisitFlorida's budget, said last week that while the numbers have jumped the last few years that another large boost in funding may not produce another large jump in the number of visitors.
Central Florida growing as tourism booms
Wilfredo Soto owns an Electronic store on International Drive.
“I been here nine years and things seem to be getting a lot better,” Soto said.
Soto said he is not surprised by the latest numbers that show a record number of people traveling to Florida.
“You always think. Does this really impact jobs and it absolutely impacts jobs,” said Governor Scott.
He hopes to reach the goal of 100 million tourists and is proposing more money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism engine.
Experts are hoping projects like Orlando Eye, unique shopping experiences, and improvements to structures and building will all help the tourism industry continue to grow.
Business owners are hoping even more people come here in 2015.
“This year we expect to have a lot more business and a lot more tourism,” Soto said.
Florida’s tourism industry grew from more than 82 million visitors (82.3) in 2010, to the 2014 number of 97 million (97.3).
That’s a 15 percent increase in just four years.