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Ocala, Marion County welcomes summer tourists from Florida, Southeast


On a morning in early June, kayakers at Florida’s iconic Silver Springs State Park in Ocala offered a glimpse of tourism trends expected throughout Marion County this summer. 

The majority of visitors were from various cities around Florida, including Tampa and Gainesville. A few were from the Southeast, including Alabama and Louisiana. One international visitor told a Star-Banner photographer she traveled from New Zealand. 

Many in the tourism industry locally and in Florida suggest these trends of visitors staying closer to home may be the norm for summer travel as rising gas prices and other expenses draw Floridians to Ocala due to its central location in the state and growing number of attractions. 

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Whether they are repeat visitors from nearby or travelers coming to Ocala for the first time from far away, Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau Tourism Development Director Loretta Shaffer says summer travelers will contribute to a record year for tourism in Marion County. 

Visitor spending had an economic impact of more than $1 billion annually, as reported from July 2020 to June 2021, and Shaffer says they are on track for a record this year.

“That’s really incredible, and we’re looking forward to continuing that momentum and riding on the coattails of an incredible winter for tourism,” Shaffer said. “We did a Visit Florida campaign that allows for us to really position ourselves as an in-state market.” 

Ocala is seeing customers emerge from newer markets like Texas. Nearby states Alabama and Georgia are also a focus, and international visits are growing slightly, but in-state travelers are still key. Shaffer’s team has been targeting Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Naples and Fort Myers for marketing campaigns. 

Silver River State Park Ramp Helper Roger Godridge, left, takes a family picture of the Williams from Tampa and their other family members from Louisiana. People, mostly from the state of Florida, were visiting Silver Springs State Park to kayak, hike or sightseeing on the glass bottom boats on June 6.

The bureau’s Visitor Tracking Report from July to September 2020 showed 55% of visitors came from Florida and 12% from the Southeast. 

“I think we’re definitely getting return visitors because they love our community, they love the people,” Shaffer said. “But I think by telling a story and getting an even stronger reach it allows for us to cultivate and bring new guests.” 

She expects steady or increased visitation throughout the year despite high gas prices. 

“We’re so centrally located, and even though average daily rates across the state are very high and even in Marion County, we really believe that we’re going to continue to generate awareness by way of these amazing assets,” Shaffer said. 



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