Despite two hurricanes hitting the state, federal officials warning away pregnant women from Miami due to the Zika virus, and international coverage of the Pulse massacre this summer, Florida is doing better than ever when it comes to tourism.
And in the context of an upcoming showdown with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the necessity of Visit Florida — which has seen its budget nearly triple in the time Scott has been in office — the results driven by destination marketing dollars tell the story of Visit Florida’s purpose and continued utility.
In a visit to the windswept and chilly Jacksonville Zoo on Monday morning, Gov. Rick Scott announced that 85 million tourists visited the state during the first nine months of 2016.
That’s the highest nine-month total ever and a 5.5 percent increase over last year. The 85 million tourists in three months outpaces the full year of 2010, said Scott, which only saw 82 million.
“We’re on a roll. This state is headed in the right direction,” Scott said, citing jobs numbers (1,232,400 created thus far in his time in the governor’s office), before telling the story of tourism, responsible for 1.2 million private sector jobs currently in the Sunshine State.
“That would not be happening,” Scott said, were it not for “Visit Florida, Visit Jacksonville, and great attractions like the Jacksonville Zoo.”
“As you know,” Scott continued, “we’ve had a lot of things happen to our state in the last twelve months. We had the Pulse terrorist attack, we’ve had two hurricanes, we’ve had Zika. But even on top of that, people are still coming — flocking to our state.”
“In the first three quarters of this year,” Scott continued, “we’ve had 85 million tourists visit our state.”
That is, Scott continued, “another record. We’ve seen records since 2010, and the reason is we have great attractions, we have great employees, we’ve got great beaches, we’ve got great weather … People want to come here.”
“We have 1.2 million jobs tied to tourism, and we’re going to continue to grow, because we’re investing. These are entry level jobs, and they’re jobs with people running places like the Jacksonville Zoo … a spectrum of great jobs.”
Scott in a statement said the record numbers show how well Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, is doing its job. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran has questioned continued funding of the organization.
Scott echoed that urgency on Monday in Jacksonville.
“We have to keep funding Visit Florida. We’ve gone in 2010 from 27 million dollars in funding to this year … 76 million dollars in state funding. It’s a public-private partnership, it’s a match program. We spend the money well and we’re getting results. 85 million tourists,” Scott said.
The governor added that Florida is “on track this year to have 115 million tourists.”
“We can do it. We only have 30 million to go,” Scott quipped.
In the gaggle after the event, Scott made the case that Visit Florida catalyzes “jobs for families,” driving a panoply of tourists into the state for attractions ranging from Universal Studios to the Jacksonville Zoo.
“We’ve got to keep funding. And we’ve got to keep getting these jobs,” the governor said.
Every 85 visitors creates one new job in Florida, asserted Will Seccombe, President and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA.
“When we look at the huge growth year over year in visitors,” Seccombe added, “that results in a lot of jobs.”
“What we’ve been doing has been working, and the momentum we have has been able to carry us through some challenging times,” Seccombe added.
For Scott, claims that Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida are “corporate welfare” are anathema.
Scott noted that when he ran for governor, he pledged to create 700,000 new jobs, and the 1,232,400 new jobs created, coupled with 243,000 job openings, speaks to a simple proposition.
“We’ve gotten a return on your tax dollars,” Scott said.
That includes Visit Florida, which is “going well” with “record numbers.”
“I want jobs — every type of job in the state,” Scott added, ranging from “entry level jobs” to “high paying jobs.”
“I want everybody to be able to get a job in the state. The most important thing we can do for a family is to get them a job,” Scott added.
What is clear: any expectation that the governor is going to abandon his agenda, vis a vis Visit Florida, is not rooted in reality. Scott believes the program is working. And he believes the numbers back him up.