TALLAHASSEE — Florida's tourism industry is on pace for another record year.
VISIT FLORIDA, the state's public-private tourism agency, on Thursday released a preliminary estimate showing the state had 21.9 million visitors in the third quarter of 2012. That's a 3.5 percent increase over the same four-month period last year.
Direct travel-related employment, though, increased only 1.5 percent, adding 15,000 jobs in July through October.
Tourism and recreational sales totaled $49 billion in the third quarter, a 7.5 percent increase from the same period in 2011. Hotel occupancy increased 1.7 percent and average room rates increased 3.3 percent.
Domestic visitors were up 3.2 percent and international visitors increased 5.5 percent. That includes a 4 percent increase in Canadian travelers.
In Collier County, so-called "bed taxes," charged on hotel stays and other vacation rentals, hit a record high last fiscal year, reaching nearly $14.9 million.
Visitor numbers in Collier have risen every month since January year-over-year, driving the spike in tourist taxes.
"From all indications we are getting from our hotels on advanced group meeting bookings and input from the international tour operators that we work with it should be another record year," said Jack Wert, the county's tourism director.
In fiscal 2011-12, the county saw more than 1.5 million visitors. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
"Potential visitors are feeling a little bit better about their economic situation. So they do seem to be using their discretionary dollars for travel and that is a good indicator that things in general should be improving in the economy," Wert said.
He said the Florida brand remains strong throughout the U.S. and in international markets.
"It's one of the reasons we attach the word Florida to so much of our marketing effort. So that people understand where it is that we are talking about. We are talking about Naples, Fla., we are talking about Marco Island, Fla., and certainly the Everglades has more wide appeal, but we always include that as part of our destination message as well," Wert said.
In Lee County, tourism numbers for September, released Friday, showed the county collected more than $1 million in bed tax money, which is 5 percent more than that month in 2011.
The county has collected about $26.5 million in tourist taxes this year, up over 9 percent from 2011 and over 20 percent from 2009, Lee tourism officials said.
However, according to the county’s Visitor and Convention Bureau, the county hasn’t seen tourist numbers rebound to where they were from 2008.
Part of the reason is due to lagging visitation of friends and relatives, tourism officials said.