VISIT FLORIDA is saying ‘oops’ over what it calls a “clerical error” showing it made advertising buys in several Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, listed by the feds as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”
The state’s embattled tourism marketing arm “was recently alerted to a clerical error in a short-term contract with the international advertising agency AVIAREPS,” said John Tupps, vice president of government relations for the agency, in an email.
“In two places, the contract inaccurately listed several Middle East countries as areas of marketing focus. We immediately updated the contract to reflect the correct countries,” he said.
“ZERO taxpayer dollars and ZERO private dollars were spent advertising to the inaccurate countries,” Tupps added. “VISIT FLORIDA does not spend any marketing dollars in Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.”
House lawmakers, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, have in recent months lambasted the public-private agency that is funded largely with taxpayers’ money. It was stripped down to $25 million — down from around $75 million — in recurring operating funds next budget year.
Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has gone after the agency for what he calls wasteful spending, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. The rapper later disclosed on social media he had been set to be paid up to $1 million.
“All of the deliverables listed in this contract are exclusively tied to bringing more tourists and direct flights from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates,” Tupps said. “Tourists from this region are second only to Scandinavia on the amount of money they spend while traveling.
“We regret this error,” Tupps said.