Orlando tourism grew in 2016, despite tragic headlines

By Mike Schneider


Associated Press

ORLANDO | Visits to Florida’s theme-park mecca continued to grow last year, despite tragic headlines from the region, enabling Orlando to keep its bragging rights as the most visited destination in the United States, tourism officials said last week.

Orlando tourism officials announced that more than 68 million visitors came to the area in 2016, a 3 percent increase over the previous year.

Last summer was tough on Orlando: In the span of a week, the Pulse nightclub shooting, the death of a toddler by an alligator at Disney World and the fatal shooting of singer Christina Grimmie after a concert raised fears that tourists would be scared away.

But George Aguel, the head of Visit Orlando, the regional tourism marketing agency, said the market for domestic visitors remained strong.

While the 3 percent growth rate last year was slower than the 5.5 year-over-year growth rate in 2015, Aguel said it’s normal to experience some fluctuations, and he said this year is off to a strong start, propelled by convention business.

On the international side, visitors from Canada and Britain stayed steady, and there are initial signs of Brazilian tourists coming back after their numbers dropped by nearly a quarter, according to tourism officials.

But there are other possible worries.

Lawmakers have cut funding for the state tourism marketing agency from $78 million to $25 million and the Trump administration has been fighting to implement a travel ban targeting six predominantly Muslim countries.