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Published on Friday, January 11, 2019

The Sunshine State looks to the future

New Visit Florida CEO Dana Young was at Florida Huddle in Daytona Beach, this week, where she caught up with TravelMole managing director Graham McKenzie

Two years ago, the bottom fell out of the Visit Florida world when in a whirl of resignations, dismissals, political shenanigans and general chaos, the very existence of the state tourism board was threatened.

Funding was reduced severely and, at the same time, many of the organisation's key destination partners decided they would no longer work with the tourism body.

Times have changed and, while a week is a long time in politics, two years in tourism is an age.

The Sunshine State starts 2019 on a positive footing, recording 95.8 million visitors arrivals between January and September 2018.

For the whole of 2017, Florida welcomed 118.8 million visitors, who spent $112 billion and supported 1.4 million jobs.

The overall international market share remained strong with more than 25% of international visitors to the U.S. landing in Florida.

The start of 2019 does see more change with the appointment of a new CEO Dana Young.

The state's first-ever female head of tourism, she brings with her an environmental legal background, which will be well suited to the challenges ahead as the state struggles with issues of water quality and the challenges of the red tide and algae - both of which affected adversely many resorts especially those in the southern part of the Gulf Coast last summer.

Speaking exclusively to TravelMole, Ms Young said the environment is one of her top priorities and that,  working closely with the new Governor, Ron de Santis, she was excited at the prospect of achieving progress.

Water quality is not, however, the only short-term goal. Persuading destination partners, such as Miami, Orlando and Kissimmee, lost two years ago, to come back into the fold is also high on the to-do list.

One of the first things she did was to call all those partners personally to arrange meetings to see if reunification is possible.

Young is also delighted with the news that Sir Richard Branson is now the new partner and shareholder of the much-anticipated and long-vaunted Brightline train, which runs services between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Now called Virgin Trains USA, the plans are to extend the line to Orlando and eventually to Tampa.

It's a new facility for both residents and visitors that will only serve to enhance the environmental feel good factor over the next era of tourism in Florida.

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