— Steve’s Marketplace —
Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
Florida is more than simply the Sunshine State. It is also the state of liberty, by which to live, and freedom, by which to choose. It’s a state of mind, deeply entrenched.
And the liberty and freedom shine down as brightly as the South Florida sun. Residents savor it, while visitors crave it.
Meanwhile, throngs of visitors are demonstrating their cravings with their feet. Florida’s tourism numbers reached an all-time high last year. This performance is extraordinary – light years from ordinary, even in our tourism mecca – considering we just emerged from a gripping pandemic.
There’s more to the tourism story, however. Granted, Florida has liberty and freedom and amenities that attract people, like bees to honey.
But many coming here have extra motivation – to get away from where they live for a while. To escape the hassles, like lockdowns, mandates, vaccine passports. We have none of that nonsense here.
“While tourism in other states is only just beginning to recover,” says Gov. Ron DeSantis, “Florida is at the front of the pack — now we are surpassing pre-pandemic levels and setting new visitation records.”
DeSantis has been routinely attacked by the national media for his bold initiatives in the early days of the pandemic to reopen our state, including businesses, schools, restaurants/shops, etc. And avoiding mask mandates, vaccine passports, indoor/outdoor seating requirements.
In our public schools, students have been learning in traditional classroom formats for the past two years, without mask mandates. The topics of classrooms and students have become politically charged, even swaying the governor’s race in blue-state Virginia.
“In Florida, we put freedom first,” DeSantis says. “And as a result people are choosing to vacation in our state from across the country and the world to escape lockdowns, including the politicians who advocated for those reckless policies and who are often spotted vacationing here.”
In 2021, Florida posted an all-time record of 118 million domestic visitors. International travel was just below record levels, with the pandemic-initiated travel restrictions around the globe.
Latin America emerged as a lucrative spring of tourism, due in part to its proximity, with Columbia becoming the state’s No. 1 international market. A record 710,000 visitors came to Florida from Columbia last year.
In addition, Florida’s hotel revenues reached the highest level ever in 2021 – at $17.3 billion. On Amelia Island, hotels seemed plenty busy last year, even with several new ones opening. Local tourism officials like Gil Langley are experts at luring travelers.
Around the state, a “tourism recovery plan” was initiated last year. It worked marvelously. But we couldn’t have done it without benefitting from locked-down states, especially up north.
Some high-profile lockdown politicians who visited Florida include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Eric Swalwell and Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan and the queen of hypocrisy. She was not the only governor to visit, however.
But Whitmer’s trip was the epitome of hypocrisy. Whitmer came to Florida last year for a “personal trip” while advising Michigan residents to avoid vacationing here, especially for spring break.
Cortez was spotted without a mask in Miami, dining at a restaurant and partying at a crowded nightclub. Meanwhile, her home city/state of New York implemented onerous restrictions on residents and businesses.
“So yes, there are a lot of those lockdown politicians that are reflected in the 118 million visitors from across the nation,” DeSantis says. “They can say one thing, but what they do is often more important than what they say.”
With momentum from Florida’s economic rebound and record tourism, DeSantis’ reelection campaign is in full swing, with plenty of material to use. They are calling their latest efforts the “Vacation to Freedom” tour.
T-shirts with logos like “Escape to Florida” are being sold on DeSantis’ reelection website. On the backs of the shirts, the words are printed: “We don’t blame you … we like freedom, too.” Next to it is a list of politicians who left locked-down home states to come here.
While Florida is prospering from the bountiful revenues of its lucrative tourism industry, you cannot overlook the people and businesses moving here to stay (boosting the property-tax base). With low taxes, less regulations, and plentiful liberty/freedom, Florida is the ideal destination for fun in the sun.
And it’s not too bad of a place to work either.
Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in several weekly newspapers in North Florida, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]