FORT WALTON BEACH (CBSMiami/(AP) — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida tourism is on the rise and Gov. Ron DeSantis credited the state's lack of COVID-19 restrictions as a reason.
DeSantis on Tuesday said that the number of tourists coming to the Sunshine State in the last quarter of 2021 surpassed the visitor count in the same quarter before the start of the pandemic.
Florida had 30.8 million tourist visits between last October and December, a slight increase over the fourth quarter in 2019, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.
The overwhelming majority of the visits were from domestic tourists, more than 29 million, while international visits continued to lag their pre-pandemic figures.
There were 1.5 million visits from overseas in the fourth quarter of 2021, a decrease of more than 42% from the same quarter in 2019. There were only 359,000 Canadian visits in the same period, a two-thirds drop from the same quarter in 2019.
"So many people over the last year-and-a-half have said, 'OK, I need to escape from the burdens of wherever I'm at with the mandates and the lockdowns and just come to Florida,'" DeSantis said during an appearance at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach.
DeSantis has campaigned against the lockdowns and mandates that other states are employing to fight COVID-19, and he credited that policy with the influx of tourists.
"Who wants to travel some place when you want to get a hamburger you have to show your medical papers?" DeSantis said "In Florida, we don't do that. We are not doing passports. We are not doing mandates."
It was the second consecutive quarter in which Florida tourist visits had surpassed those from before the start of the coronavirus's spread in the U.S. in early 2020.
Preliminary estimates show that 122.4 million tourists visited the Sunshine State in 2021, compared to 131 million in 2019, according to Visit Florida.
(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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