ORLANDO, Fla. — A big advantage of the Sunshine State is its moderate and favorable winter weather.
Distributors who serve the restaurants and retail stores that out-of-state visitors patronize during their winter trips to Florida report tourist business remains strong.
Tourist interest in south Florida and its Palm Beaches region is on the increase, said Jack Scalisi, president of West Palm Beach-based Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit & Produce.
“With the snowbirds, it’s typically slower business now,” Scalisi said in January. “But business is continuing to be very good. When the winters are harsh in the Northeast, that helps bring more tourists here. Also, our economy here has been better, which has helped.”
On the state’s western coast, tourism thrives, distributors report.
“The tourists are coming and they are here,” said Louis Garcia Jr., president of the Tampa-based Crews & Garcia Inc.
“I think all the cold weather in other states is helping us. You talk with the people who spend time on the highways, they tell me the traffic’s here. They’re noticing more visitors.”
In central Florida, tourism remains the biggest driver of Orlando’s economy, said Ernie Harvill, president of Harvill’s Produce Co.
“It’s pretty good here,” he said in January. “Tourism isn’t as good as it is when the economy’s better. ... It’s a little better than it was when the economy sank.”
St. Augustine, Fla., which calls itself the oldest U.S. city, remains north Florida’s primary tourism destination, said Matt Wasson, vice president, owner and operator of The Garden Wholesale Produce Inc., in Jacksonville.
“This past year was a good year for tourism there,” he said. “It’s pretty evident St. Augustine increased the number of tourist visits. They are making a concerted effort to market themselves internationally, which has paid off.”
While Jacksonville’s Atlantic beaches remain a draw, the number of visitors hasn’t changed much and business at the region’s many country clubs and golf resorts remains consistent, Wasson said.
Export sales consistent
The state’s proximity to the Caribbean region’s many islands also helps south Florida distributors export produce to other countries.
From Miami, The Produce Connection Inc. distributes produce via containers to wholesale customers in many Caribbean islands, including Aruba, Barbados, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, as well as Panama.
“Exports have been steady,” said Bruce Fishbein, partner. “To be able to get credit these days is very hard. It’s rough for many of our customers to get credit and they have to go through some strict credit terms. We want to make it to where we won’t get hurt.”
Walter Vazquez Jr., chief executive officer of Miami-based Freedom Fresh LLC, agrees export sales remain consistent.
“The export market is very seasonal and really depends on the U.S. economy and how we’re doing,” he said. “Export sales are very tourist-oriented.”
Freedom Fresh distributes throughout the Caribbean, Vazquez said.