Not only did Florida's tourism return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, but the state enjoyed a record number of domestic tourists last year.
Visit Florida, the state's official tourism marketing corporation, released the visitor estimates for 2021 on Tuesday. An estimated 117.7 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in 2021, which is a 56% increase from 2020. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the highest number of tourists in Florida's history.
There were also 4.1 million international travelers to Florida in 2021, an increase of 68% from 2020.
There were nearly 31 million visitors to Florida in the fourth quarter of 2021, a 7% increase compared to the 29 million in 2019.
Tourism bounced back as the number of hotel rooms sold in Florida during 2021 increased 47% from 2020, but was down by 6.6% compared to 2019.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) credited the state's "free state" policies regarding COVID-19 for the booming tourism figures.
"In Florida, we put freedom first, 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," DeSantis said during a press conference in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
"So, Florida is one of the few places in the world where more people are visiting now than before the pandemic," DeSantis said. "Compared to 2019 quarter four, domestic tourism in 2021 quarter four was 7% higher."
“While tourism in other states is only just beginning to recover, Florida is at the front of the pack — now we are surpassing pre-pandemic levels and setting new visitation records," the governor added.
DeSantis slammed other governors and mayors who enacted COVID-19 passports.
"Who wants to travel some place when you want to get a hamburger you have to show your medical papers? In Florida, we don’t do that. It's a free state. We are not doing passports. We are not doing mandates," he declared.
"You have governors that have locked down their states, imposed mandates, imposed restrictions," DeSantis noted. "You have big-city mayors that have imposed lockdown policies. You have people on TV, news networks, that advocate for restrictions and lockdowns. And almost all of them have been criticizing Florida for a year and a half, and yet many of them are part of our visitation figures."
"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.
"Our fellow Americans know that, in Florida, they can expect sunshine, great hospitality, and freedom," DeSantis wrote on Twitter.
Governor DeSantis announces Florida had 30.9 million visitors from October to December, the second consecutive quarter where visitation has topped pre-pandemic levels.https://twitter.com/i/broadcasts/1YpKkZeYjAoxj\u00a0\u2026— Ron DeSantis (@Ron DeSantis) 1644956355
But it isn't just people vacationing in Florida, there is a significant influx of people relocating to the Sunshine State.
"More than 547,000 people exchanged out-of-state driver’s licenses last year for ones with Sunshine State addresses," the Palm Beach Post reported. "That’s a 40% increase from 2020 and nearly 20% greater than the five-year average between 2017 and 2021."
A United Van Lines study named Florida the fifth-most "moved to" state in 2021 with 62% of inbound moves compared to nearly 38% outbound moves.
A conservative moving company in Florida says their business is booming, especially in relocating Americans from blue states with strict COVID-19 restrictions.