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Tourist Data Introduction

Key West’s Economy

Historically, the economy of the City has been driven by the following major industries:  

Period Significant Industry  
1830's - 1930's US Navy, Fishing, Shipwreck Salvage, Sponging, Cigar Fabrication  
1930's Current  US Navy, Tourism and Development

Tourism is the City's primary generator of local economic activity. In 2001, the City hosted 201,228 airport passengers 85% of whom are estimated to be tourists and 676,881 cruise ship passengers.

About two of every three jobs in Key West in 1990 were in the tourist driven retail trade and service sectors. Almost half of all retail trade positions were in eating and drinking establishments, and the professional and related category accounted for half of all service positions. The economic base of the City, in comparison to statewide averages, is very high in retail trade and public administration employment and equally low in the manufacturing and wholesales trade sectors. 

Employment Chart


Counting and monitoring the level of tourists is not a precise science. There are indicators of activity as depicted in the following line graphs. The first is a line graph depicting the numbers of cruise ship passengers visiting the City. This is the clearest indicator of one tourist element. It shows a seasonal variation in activity and an increasing trend of cruise ship tourists. It also depicts a drop in FY 00-01 due to the loss of a major cruise ship line. A successful aggressive marketing program resulted in increased volumes in FY 01-02. There was deep concern following 9/11 that a significant reduction in cruise ship tourist activity would occur. However, the opposite has been experienced as indicated by quarterly activity in the last quarter of 2001 and the first and second quarters of 2002. Further, the linear trend line depicts a steady growth in the numbers of ship passengers. This has caused some concern among citizens and environmental groups seeking to recommend a balance between tourist volume and the quality of the tourist experience and the environment. 


Cruise Ship Graph


Another indication of tourist volume is the number of visitors to Fort Zachary Taylor. It is a pre civil war coastal defense fort with a beach and has been converted into a State park. It is a popular local resident and tourist attraction. Thus, visitor counts are a partial indicator of tourist volume.

The graph below depicts visitor counts to Fort Taylor by quarter and includes an historic volume trend line. It shows a gradual increase in volume with a significant negative spikes caused by Hurricane Georges in September 1998. Volumes did not show a drop after 9/11. City tourist officials surmise that many tourists forsook foreign travel for domestic destinations. Key West as the only Caribbean island in the United States is a desired location. Fort Taylor is an attractive beachfront location.


Fort Taylor Graph


Tourism has proven to be a significant source of revenue for the economy and City government.


Click HERE to view the full data workbook compiled by the COC, TDC and City Finance Department.

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