Tourism was very, very good to Pinellas County in 2013, and so far 2014 is even better.
Compared to the same months in 2013, January and February visitation is up more than 11 percent.
The latest statistics from Visit St. Petersburg-Clearwater say in 2013, 5.58 million people visited Pinellas, with an economic impact of $8.3 billion.
Buried inside those numbers: "In 2013, we hit a million European visitors for the first time," said tourism director D.T. Minich. "So they're basically our third largest market now."
It took more than a decade to grow that European market, but new flights offered by Edelweiss Airlines have accelerated the process.
British Airways has daily flights; Edelweiss has better connections through Zurich, Switzerland.
Minich said South America is also now in play, courtesy of new service by Copa Airlines. It connects the Tampa Bay area with Panama City, a major hub for all of South America.
"What we're doing right now starting out in South America is basically where we were 15, 20 years ago in Europe and we think the potential here in South America is tremendous," Minich said.
With just a few months of flights in 2013, South American visitation shot up 30 percent.
South American and European visitors are more valued by the tourism industry, and the local economy in general, because they tend to stay longer and go shopping for merchandise that is less expensive in the United States.
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