ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott encouraged leaders from Florida's No. 1 industry on Wednesday to set a goal of luring 100 million tourists to the Sunshine State next year.
Scott told hundreds of leaders of Florida's tourism industry that the goal was feasible, given that a record 90 million people visited the state last year.
"A hundred million tourists next year would create a lot of jobs," Scott said during a dinner banquet at the 46th annual Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism.
The three-day conference is at a Universal Studios hotel in Orlando. "We have every reason to believe we can get to 100 million next year," he said.
Florida's visitors spent a record $72 billion in 2012, an almost 7 percent increase over the previous year.
Scott credited the uptick in tourism to increased funding for Visit Florida, the state's quasi-public tourism marketing agency. Scott asked lawmakers earlier this year to set aside $75 million in this year's budget for Visit Florida to pay for its marketing and advertising efforts.
The governor also said investment in the state's ports was helping boost visitors and shipping to Florida.
The recent boost in tourism had generated more tax revenue for the state and helped reverse the state's budget from a deficit three years ago to a projected surplus next year.
Tourism is one of Florida's most important economic drivers, with more than 1 million people employed in a variety of industry-related jobs.
Visit Florida chair Tammy Gustafson also credited the tourism boost to a collaboration between the tourism marketing agency and airlines to expand international flights to Florida.
"Florida tourism has momentum," said Gustafson, a Universal Orlando Resort executive.