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The Tourist

As most of Florida’s economy emerges from recession, it will find a healthy tourism sector waiting for it, basking in two years of steady growth.

In 2011, the number of visitors to Florida climbed 6%. For the first three quarters of 2012, tourism grew another 2% to 67.6 million, putting the state on a record-setting pace.

More than 40% of Florida’s increase in tourism over the last few years has come from overseas travelers, including travelers arriving here on new international flights from Latin American countries such as Brazil and Colombia. “We’ve made a conscientious effort to expand international air service to the state,” says Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida.

There’s also been an increase in flights from European countries, with a new direct flight from Miami to Prague in the Czech Republic and from Tampa to Switzerland. Miami also added a direct flight to Moscow. Visit Florida is now looking to countries like India, where it added a representative for the first time, to fuel growth.

Spending by international tourists, who tend to stay longer, was up 7.5% for the first eight months of 2012 from the year-earlier period.

Meanwhile, northwest Florida counties hit hard by the BP oil spill are breaking tourism records, in part because of marketing dollars from BP. State officials are hoping to get a further boost this year from the “Viva Florida” anniversary celebration of Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery of the state 500 years ago. “It gives us a really unique opportunity to broaden the appeal of Florida,” Seccombe says.