Record number of visitors in Florida at start of 2013

26 million people visited FL between Jan. and Mar.

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Florida tourists and Florida tourism are both making a record comeback in 2013. While tourism numbers for the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast are moving in a positive direction, it is a new statewide report that shows just how much Florida's biggest economic driver has rebounded.

"Oh, I love it. I love it," said Crystal Wilson. "I told my sister I wouldn't mind moving here."

Wilson and her sister are visiting Palm Beach County from Memphis, Tennessee, soaking up the sun on Palm Beach. But Wilson says this Florida vacation would not have happened in years past.

"When the economy went down, my vacation level went down," she said. Wilson is like many people; when the money was not flowing, she was not going anywhere.

"It's absolutely rebounded," said Carli Smith of the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Smith applauds the tourism industry for hanging on even when business was not thriving.

State tourism officials say more people visited Florida in the first three months of 2013 than any other quarter in state history.

Visit Florida, the state's tourism board, reported 26 million visitors from January to March of this year. "Tourism is a resilient and important industry and these numbers prove that more than anything," said Smith.

At Palm Beach Hibiscus Bed & Breakfast in the heart of West Palm Beach, occupancy rates were nearing capacity in early 2013. A similar trend was reported at hotels across Palm Beach County. Still, manager Patrick O'Kelley says there is always room for economic improvement.

"The economy is getting a little bit better," said O'Kelley. "People are turning money loose a little bit more. I know I am a little bit."     

O'Kelley is likely speaking of people like Wilson, who says she is only now able to spend her time and her money here in Florida.

"It's changed for me and I'm sure it's picking up for everybody else," said Wilson. "It gives you time to save your money again and get back into the groove of things."  

The tourism industry has an annual economic impact of $67 billion on Florida's economy. The latest numbers from Visit Florida are nearly five percent higher than they were in 2012.

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