Florida tourism leaders worry about delay in international visitors

Florida tourism leaders continue to be concerned about the delay in international visitors as the industry anticipates tourism numbers for the last three months of 2022.

While Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, boasts that Florida is the top US destination for foreign travelers based on market share, the number of international visitors to the state and nation continues to lag. well below pre-pandemic totals.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young expressed concern last week that global inflation and long visa processing times could affect the final numbers for 2022 and tourism in 2023.

“The waiting time to obtain a visa interview in Mexico City is 693 days. In Lima, Peru, it’s 831 days,” Young told members of the Visit Florida Executive Committee. “This is absolutely ridiculous and is affecting our international visit.”

The US Travel Association reported that steps taken by the US Department of State to reduce visitor visa wait times have made “substantial progress,” with the world average below 150 days for the first time since 2021.

In a statement posted online, the US State Department said the delay is due to a combination of “pent-up demand” for visas, as countries have lifted COVID-19 restrictions, combined with demand regular seasonal.

But, as Young noted, wait times in several nations remain above average, even amid steps like the opening of embassies and consulates on Saturdays for visa processing and increased hiring of US Foreign Service employees. to help with visa paperwork.

India had a waiting period of 577 days on January 19, up from 999 days in mid-December.

“Wait times remain unreasonably high despite marked improvements in countries like India,” US Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a statement. “While we appreciate the efforts of the (Department of) State, much work remains to be done to reduce interview wait times to an acceptable level.”

Young said Florida’s international tourism numbers also face a “negative impact” as the Biden administration extended a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for foreign air travelers entering the United States through April 8. The requirement was scheduled to end on January 8.

Florida is also working to bring back business travel and meetings as competition increases, Young said.

“Increased competition from other global destinations that were not trading during the pandemic is something we are seeing,” Young said.

When third-quarter tourism numbers were released in November, Florida’s estimated 32.645 million travelers represented an 8 percent increase over the same period in 2019, before the pandemic largely shut down the crucial tourism industry. Of that, domestic travelers were up 11.4 percent, while foreign visitors were down 30 percent.

The US Travel Association estimated that international travel to the US was 34 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Visit Florida, which has increased its marketing to offset negative media reporting on issues like hurricanes, red tide and COVID-19, received $50 million in state funding this year. It is seeking $100 million for the next fiscal year, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Young said Visit Florida is participating in “phase 2” of its response to Hurricane Ian. The Category 4 hurricane made landfall on September 28 in southwestern Florida, causing widespread damage as it moved across the state.

“We launched phase 1 on October 8. This was a quick response focused on unaffected areas of the state to show that Florida was still open for business,” Young said. “We deployed video crews across the state in unaffected areas so they could film live, date-stamped footage of people basking in the Florida sunshine. This was to combat the $165 million in earned negative media we received over a period of about three weeks and to dispel the misperception that Florida as an entire state was destroyed.”

Fourth quarter and full 2022 tourism figures are expected to be released in mid-February.