Florida continues to market itself as an international tourism destination, with Gov. Ron DeSantis making the pitch for Japanese visitors Friday.

DeSantis, in remarks to the Southeastern United States – Japan Conference in Orlando, made the case for nonstop flights between the Land of the Rising Sun and the Sunshine State as part of a larger pitch for visitation.

“We would like to see an expansion of flights direct from Florida to Japan, and vice versa,” DeSantis said. “This is a great place. I think a lot of Japanese people would really love to come and visit Florida.”

DeSantis has made these targeted plays before for more direct travel between Florida and friendly countries with some success. Israel’s El Al, which had Miami nonstop flights already, expanded nonstop flights to Orlando during his first term. Japanese travelers would enjoy much of the state, DeSantis suggested.

“Of course this part of Florida you know has a lot of attractions,” DeSantis told the crowd. “But I think what people have found out, particularly over the last couple of years, is, man, there are so many other great spots you can be in the state of Florida.’”

“Yes, Miami gets a lot of attention and attracts people from all over the world. It’s really the capital of Latin America in this hemisphere,” DeSantis continued. “But if you go west, to the Tampa Bay area, never been doing better. You go to some of these places in Southwest Florida, you saw the hurricane, but I tell people that when this debris is up, this place is going to come back better.”

“It’s a beautiful piece of land. These are really good people,” DeSantis added, before going on to extol the Panhandle as one of the few places people could be “normal” during the pandemic. “They had the best summer they ever had in 2020 summer.”

The Governor spoke for over ten minutes, extolling Japan and its cultural products throughout. He spoke with particular relish about sushi chefs who made their way to Florida because of pandemic restrictions elsewhere.

“You have these unbelievable Japanese sushi chefs who are now in Florida, doing really, really great things! They bring in this Kobe beef,” DeSantis said. “It’s unbelievable what’s going on.”

Tourism to Florida continues to be a strength. VISIT FLORIDA estimates 35.1 million people visited Florida between July and September this year, good for a 6.9% uptick over the same period last year.

DeSantis noted Friday that the “Free State of Florida” had almost 45% of all international tourism in 2021.

“We’ve never had one state take up as much of the tourism market as they did in 2021,” DeSantis said.

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