Florida boasts record tourism numbers

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - More than 30 million tourists came to the Sunshine State during the first three months of the year; a 2.5 percent jump over last year.

The record-setting number of visitors comes as the governor continues his criticism of state lawmakers for cutting funding to Visit Florida.

Stop in any rest area in Florida and you'll likely see cars with out of state plates. One Georgia mother and son, Sharon Holland and Jason Ingram, was on their way to Mexico Beach in the Panhandle.

"Mexico Beach is real quiet, laid back, a great place to fish," explained Ingram.

Holland said, "We've always traveled in Florida a lot because we're so close by. We used to go to the East Coast a lot, but the Gulf is our first choice."

This year Florida has seen more visitors to the state than ever before.

"We have a little pent up demand so people are ready to travel this year and from every indication, AAA is predicting a strong travel season this year," said AAA Spokesperson W.D. Williams.

About 31.1 million people visited the state in the first three months, that's a 2.5 percent increase over last year. Governor Rick Scott says those numbers mean Florida should continue investing more in tourism marketing.

He tweeted Monday attributing the growth in tourism to the funding of Visit Florida. The governor has criticized the legislature for cutting Visit Florida funding by two-thirds, saying it puts the industry at risk.

Still, AAA expects growth to continue with or without the additional marketing.

"With all the attractions in the state and the natural resources that we have here, I believe people are going to continue coming to Florida and visiting Florida. Once they come once they're going to come back," said Williams.

But not all the news is good.

Overseas tourism dropped for the third straight quarter. Canadians traveling to the state also fell. Visitors from our northern neighbor has dropped nine straight quarters.

Visit Florida says the lack of funding will make it harder for the state to compete with other tourist destinations like California and could possibly lead to the state losing billions of dollars in revenue.

Governor Scott is still debating whether to veto the entire budget approved by lawmakers, or just parts of it.