Equines Significantly Impact Tourism Dollars


The Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau kicked off National Travel and Tourism Week from May 19 to 25 announcing that from April 2023 to March 2024, more than 1.4 million visitors with a $1 billion in economic impact, visited the county. Visitors spent more than $682 million directly on accommodations, restaurants, groceries, transportation, attractions, entertainment and shopping. Additionally, visitor spending saves locals $466 in taxes per household annually. 

Equine-generated dollars are a significant part of the tourism equation in the Horse Capital of the World ®. According to the 2023 American Horse Council study, non-horse owning participant and spectator travel, dining and lodging equates to a $2.7 billion in total economic impact in Florida. Marion County equates to about $965 million, more than one-third of that total. 

The county experienced a record-breaking February producing the highest Tourist Tax Development revenue to date since voters approved the the referendum in January 2005. The record reflects tax on stays in short-term accommodations in Marion County for less than six months. 

February is part of the high season for horse shows and events, which taper off in the summer but pick up again in late September. The AHC report identified a number of large-scale equine events held annually that bring in visitors who spend including the five-week Federation Equestre International with 36,000 participants and 15,000 spectators, the three-month hunter-jumper event series at Horse Shows in the Sun with 9,600 visitors, Live Oak International with more than 10,000, the North American Reining Stakes (7,850 attendees and 550 participants), CONFEPASO Youth Equitation Mundial with an estimated 3,500 attendees, and a reported 10,000 people attended the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup jumping series at the World Equestrian Center. 

Additionally, buyers and sellers for the Ocala Breeders’ Sales are coming to the county for five world-class Thoroughbred auctions annually. Thoroughbred breeders, owners and trainers with Thoroughbreds based at training tracks and foaling centers in Central Florida also make the trip to see their horses progress and shop, dine and stay.

Tuesday, the Marion County Board of County Commissioners presented a proclamation at the BCC meeting recognizing the week and the impact that travel has on the economy, jobs, and quality of life for residents as well as visitors.

“Tourism is vital to Marion County’s thriving economy and high quality of life. Our natural wonders continue to attract events and visitors from all over the world,” Marion County BCC chair Michelle Stone said. 

“Revenue from Florida’s tourism supports more than 10,000 local jobs and generates millions toward our community’s revenue. Tourism is the lifeblood of Florida, driving economic growth, creating jobs, and providing revenue that supports various sectors; from hospitality to retail,” Stone said. “It’s an essential part of our identity and prosperity, allowing us to operate without a state income tax.” 

 “Our residents and their businesses are Ocala/Marion County’s most important advocates in tourism and I want to thank the entire community for your continued southern hospitality,” Tourism Development Director Loretta Shaffer said. 

“Our destination is not just for tourists to enjoy; I encourage residents to take some time this summer to explore the outdoor playground that awaits in your own backyard to truly appreciate where you live. If you have not already, download the Ocala Marion Travel Guide App or visit OcalaMarion.com to find inspiration on how to plan your own adventure.” 

Tammy A. Gantt contributed to this story.

Return to the May 22 issue of Wire to Wire