CORRECTION: A story on Page A1 of Sunday’s edition, “County tourism drops,” needs correction.
Tourism in Citrus County dropped 4.1 percent in 2019. Recently released tourism numbers show that in the 4th quarter of 2019, the number of visitors increased 1.6 percent compared to the same three months of 2018.
The Chronicle has reworked this story from its original format to include data released Feb. 7, 2020.
New tourism numbers out Thursday show hotel and motel visitations to Citrus County posted a slight uptick from October to December 2019.
It’s the first increase in comparison of quarter over quarter in more than a year.
“Despite some softness in October demand, for the fourth quarter of 2019, lodgings reported benefiting from events like the dragon boat races, art festival, and rodeo; robust holiday business; and a strong start to the manatee season,” according to Research Data Services (RDS), a consultant with the Citrus County Tourist Development Council (TDC).
Estimated Numbers of Overnight Commercial Lodging Visitors
|Quarter||Totals||Previous Year's Quarter Totals||% Change|
The news was encouraging because County tourism numbers had dropped for the first time in five years.
Citrus County had 31,000 fewer overnight visitors to local hotels during fiscal year 2019 (October 2018 to September 2019), according to RDS.
In all, 499,400 people visited Citrus County from October 2018 to September 2019. That’s a drop of 5.8% from 530,400 the same period a year earlier, or fiscal year 2018. This was the first year-over-year downturn in five years. The data does not include visitors to local RV parks, Airbnbs and campgrounds.
Pricher blamed much of the downturn to the red tide which affected tourism in coastal counties to the south. Even though the destructive algae bloom never made it to Citrus County, it led many tourists to believe it was statewide, Pricher said.
The consultant’s study, which will be presented at the Feb. 12 Citrus County Tourist Development Council (TDC) meeting, attributed the falloff in tourists to several factors: rainy weather, reports of a slower scallop season, the threat of Hurricane Dorian and the discontinuation of the large number of temporary employees working on Duke Energy’s new natural gas plant.
County Commissioner Scott Carnahan said at a recent board meeting tourism is climbing in Citrus County despite a year-end controversy involving a New York Times digital subscription that created a national firestorm.
"The New York Times didn't affect any people from coming to our county, like they put in the paper," he said. "We have more and more people coming to our county and visiting because of the natural beauty that we have, but yet they want to put false information (in) the paper."
Carnahan and TDC Chairman Ron Kitchen have declined to talk to the Chronicle about the numbers.
Pricher remain confident that 2019 was an aberration and tourism numbers will rebound.
“I don’t see it being a long-term trend,” Pricher said.