Florida’s new tourism czar, former state Sen. Dana Young, is pitching lawmakers to continue setting aside $76 million a year for Visit Florida and is promoting the agency’s ability to overcome negative publicity while drawing record numbers of visitors.
Young, a Tampa Republican tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to run the public-private tourism agency, said this week that an expected eighth consecutive year of record tourism will be announced before the end of February, even with the problems of red tide outbreaks and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Constant news coverage of damage in the Panhandle from the October hurricane, including scenes of flattened beach communities, created the equivalent of $35 million in negative media, Young said. Stories about Florida’s waters being filled with red tide accounted for an additional $22 million in negative media.
The red tide perception problems went beyond coastal areas.
“We did a study of red tide and the visitor response to red tide, and in that survey we asked, ‘What city would you be less likely to visit because of red tide?’ They said Orlando,” Young told the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.
“It shows people don’t know the geography of Florida, especially the international visitors,” Young continued. “They hear red tide, they believe it’s the whole state. They hear that there’s a hurricane and believe it’s the whole state.”
State estimates indicate Florida had 118.8 million visitors in 2017, up from 112.4 million in 2016, The state reported 106.6 million visitors in 2015, 98.5 million in 2014, 94.1 million in 2013, 91.5 million in 2012, and 87.3 million in 2011.
DeSantis has recommended lawmakers maintain Visit Florida’s funding at $76 million.