With its full state funding finally secured, VISIT FLORIDA’s board of directors approved a $76 million marketing plan for 2017-’18 that pours far more of the state money into core marketing programs than before, all but eliminates sponsorships, and pares down administrative costs backed by the state money.
In a conference call meeting Tuesday, the attending members voted unanimously for the plan that puts $39 million, more than half of the state money approved earlier this month, into marketing efforts for North American visitors; another $11 million aimed at four international markets, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, and Germany; and another $15 million into various other marketing efforts, ranging from welcome stations at the state lines to $1 million specifically earmarked for a Veterans for Florida program.
Various board and VISIT FLORIDA staff members occasionally yet only briefly acknowledged that the state’s official tourism marketing corporation dodged a bullet this spring after Speaker Richard Corcoran led an effort seeking to cut state funding to to just $25 million, out of concerns of lack of transparency and accountability and questionable spending last year. The $76 million was restored only through the legislative deal struck during the special session three weeks ago, between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who, himself, late last year, fired and replaced the last VISIT FLORIDA president and other top executives, and issued a list of reform demands for the organization.
“I truly believe in my heart of hearts this is VISIT FLORIDA 2.0,” said Interim Chief Marketing Officer Nelson Mongiovi.
The plan approved Tuesday eliminates $11 million from the sponsorship pool of money, and reduces the administrative costs charged to the state by $5 million. All of that was pushed into the various marketing programs, particularly into the international marketing program.
Yet the bottom line goal of the marketing program was doubted and debated throughout Tuesday’s meeting.
Mongiovi set forth a goal of reaching 120 million visitors in calendar year 2017, which would be an 6 percent increase from the record 113 million that Florida attracted last year. Various board members raised concerns over whether that 120 million number was realistic, given some concerns about a potentially softening international market, and given the six months of 2017 in which VISIT FLORIDA found itself in turmoil, shedding staff and potentially losing momentum, while it awaited its fate and the prospect of huge state cuts.
“If I were betting on my private business, I would put it as an aspirational goal but certainly not as a realistic goal, just so we don’t get caught by someone saying, ‘Did you hit 120 million visitors?'” said Gene Prescott of The Biltmore Hotel. “If we can hit it, that’s fantastic. But I think it’s optimistic.”
The goal wasn’t changed, but it was downplayed. Mongiovi and others insisted repeatedly that VISIT FLORIDA’s main goal is to improve the yield of visitors – that is, to attract more of the kind of visitors who spend lots of money. That’s one reason for the increased marketing money going into the international markets. They also discussed their desire to replace or add to the total visitors’ goal with a goal that reflects economic impact dollars.
“I’m focusing on yield. Having the right visitors matter,” said VISIT FLORIDA President Ken Lawson.