ARBOR WEALTH: Record tourism, Laurence Shames and Jimmy Buffett

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

“He looked … to the beach, blessed every … lounge chair of the state of Florida … a patient and forgiving state where lives could be rethought, revised, perhaps even repaired.” from Tropical Depression by Laurence Shames

The next sound you hear is an entire state exhaling at the conclusion of the summer tourist season. Jimmy Buffet had it right in “When The Coast Is Clear.”  (see lyrics below).

Let’s start with the bottom line. Florida may yet host a hundred million visitors in 2014. According to Visit Florida, 24 million out-of-state tourists visited Florida during the three month period of April through June, most of whom seemed to be driving in my neighborhood. Just kidding. This new record eclipsed the second quarter mark by 3 percent, set last year during this time period.

Of these 24 million second quarter visitors, 2.8 million were from overseas and a million were from Canada. More out-of-state Americans came to see us, too: 2.6 percent more than last year’s record setting numbers. We don’t have the third quarter statistics yet (July through September), but these numbers are likely to establish new records, also.

Tourism is a job creator. Some 1.1 million Florida jobs are directly tied to it, including 76,000 new ones in 2013. The hotel industry thrives. Sales tax revenues subsequently help fund schools, roads and building projects. Realtors sell second homes and condos.  Small businesses flourish. Charter boat fishermen earn a sweat-stained living guiding sunburned tourists into schools of amberjack, snapper and mingo. Visitors throw coins ad nauseam into the plastic netting at the entrance to Florida toll roads, money that helps pay down the debt issued to build those roads. 

Speaking of coins, there’s a flip side, too. The roads that our visitors help pay for? They’re deteriorating faster than we can rebuild them, partly because of so many out-of-state cars. The population in tourist destinations swells to 25 and 50 times the actual number of permanent residents. The strain on infrastructure is enormous. Locals shop depleted grocery store shelves, stand in interminable lines, and motor behind excited, erratic drivers. Roads are clogged, and safety and rescue vehicles can often make little more progress in negotiating them than the rest of us. Our water resources, with an aquifer already stressed by commercial development, must sustain not only our permanent residents, but thirsty visitors as well. Gently expressed, the quality of life suffers.

Many visitors themselves eventually become permanent residents. And pay property taxes and contribute to communities.  And as such, it doesn’t take them long to join the debate over the mixed blessing of unbridled tourism. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “And so it goes.”

“That’s where it always happens…

Same place every year;

I come down to talk to me…

When the coast is clear.”

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.