The House has VISIT FLORIDA on the chopping block, and tourism groups are hoping lawmakers reconsider.
Closing down VISIT FLORIDA is House Speaker Jose Oliva’s prerogative and House Transportation & Tourism committee chair Jay Trumbull set funding the tourism marketing arm at $19 million in his budget recommendation — enough to get it through its sunset on Oct. 1.
Wednesday, the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations said the chamber needs to get the ball rolling.
“On behalf of local tourism promotion agencies across the state, we call on the Florida House of Representatives to reauthorize and fully fund VISIT FLORIDA,” the group said in a news release.
“Through our partnerships with VISIT FLORIDA and the matching dollars they provide, we have been able to work together to promote our state and communities to potential visitors in a highly competitive market.
“Last year, Florida welcomed a record 126.1 million visitors. This is in spite of misperceptions and repeated negative media coverage related to red tide, algae and hurricane recovery that could have left many of our potential visitors believing Florida’s travel destinations were closed for business.”
Indeed, the trifecta of algal blooms, red tide and Hurricane Michael brought some of Florida’s top tourism destinations bad press. But FADMO and others pushing for VISIT FLORIDA’s reauthorization have noted successful campaigns to assuage tourists’ concerns.
In Northwest Florida, for instance, VISIT FLORIDA spearheaded a multi-million dollar TV campaign to get visitors into the pockets of the region spared by Hurricane Michael.
FADMO also stressed the financial benefits of keeping VISIT FLORIDA around.
“More than a fifth of all the sales tax revenue generated in Florida is attributed to tourism. Not only does this industry fund a significant portion of our state’s budget, it puts 1.4 million people to work, keeps more money in their pockets and helps pay for services that improve every Floridian’s quality of life,” the group said.
“Reauthorizing VISIT FLORIDA and funding it at its current level of $76 million — a small percentage of the state’s overall budget — returns $2.15 to taxpayers for every dollar invested. These dividends are the lifeblood of our state and local economies. We ask that the Florida House of Representatives invest in Florida’s future by investing in VISIT FLORIDA.”
The dollars and cents arguments mirrors the one put forward by former Sen. Dana Young, who Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped to lead VISIT FLORIDA earlier this year.
“When you realize tourism dollars make up roughly one-third of our state budget, then it’s an easy, easy move to say we need to continue funding this agency,” she said in January.
To that end, DeSantis recommended keeping VISIT FLORIDA’s funding at its current level in his 2019-20 budget proposal.
The Senate reauthorization bill, sponsored by Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters, would strike the sunset provision from state law. It’s cleared all of its committee stops and is ready for the chamber floor.