Visit Florida sets sights on ecotourism market

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida saw record-breaking tourism numbers in the first half of this year, but with all that travel comes the potential for damage to the environment. 

Visit Florida, the state tourism promotion agency, is trying a new approach: offering eco-friendly activities and attractions for tourists.

At the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab about 30 miles southwest of the state’s capital, co-founder Jack Rudloe said the whole operation would be in serious trouble without a key element.

“Volunteers are critical to Gulf Specimen,” Rudloe said.

Some volunteers are local. Others travel as far as Canada.

“It’s a vacation for them, and also in the wintertime, the snowbirds get out of the freeze,” said Rudloe.

With figures released Thursday showing a record 68.9 million visitors came to the Sunshine State from January through June, the largest number during any six-month period, Visit Florida has launched a new initiative that could help organizations such as the marine lab.

It’s a new online portal that aims to attract ecotourists, steering them toward volunteer opportunities such as the ones at the marine lab.

“Visit Florida is finally moving a little bit off the center of Disney and all of the other great big attractions and Mickey Mouse, to what we really have here in Florida,” Rudloe said.

For those who aren’t ready to commit their vacation time to volunteering, Visit Florida’s online portal also highlights ecotourism destinations and tips for reducing the vacation’s carbon footprint.

Conservationists such as Aliki Moncrief, with the Florida Conservation Voters, point out when the environment is healthy, so too is Florida tourism.

“Most people come to Florida with an expectation of spending some time outside, spending some time in nature,” Moncrief said.

And teaching green lessons to Florida visitors spreads the ideas across the world when vacationers return home.

To learn more about ecotourism destinations in Florida, click here.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.