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Florida Tourism Day comes as VISIT FLORIDA faces uncertain future

Lawmakers will decide the tourism marketing agency’s fate this Session.

Wednesday is Florida Tourism Day at The Capitol.

The agenda event kicks off at 9 a.m. with a program at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, where Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate President Bill Galvano are expected to speak.

The afternoon will feature a “Rally for Florida Tourism” attended by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez in the plaza level of the Capitol, while the evening will bring a street party to the corner of Adams St. and College Ave.

The Partnership for Florida Tourism has billed the day as a celebration of Florida tourism, though it comes as most in the tourism industry are wondering if they’ll have anything to celebrate after the 2020 Legislative Session wraps.

The main stressor: the uncertain future of VISIT FLORIDA.

In the 2019 Legislative Session, lawmakers slashed the tourism marketing agency’s budget to $50 million, down from $76 million the year prior.

Though it survived, the cuts forced the VISIT FLORIDA board of directors to cut $3.65 million in payroll and $17.8 million in marketing spending.

Though the agency has enjoyed strong support from the Governor and the Senate was amenable to fully funding VISIT FLORIDA last year, the House — including House Speaker Jose Oliva — entered the 2019 Legislative Session with no intention of renewing VISIT FLORIDA’s authorization.

The compromise was akin to a stay of execution. Though funding was authorized, lawmakers only extended the agency’s authorization by a year. If lawmakers don’t reauthorize VISIT FLORIDA in the 2020 Legislative Session, it’ll cease to exist.

VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young has been making the case for renewal since she was appointed to the post shortly after DeSantis took office.

Over the course of 2019, the former state Senator touted every fact and figure she could to showcase the value of the agency.

Tourism numbers have increased every year for nearly a decade. Metrics show every dollar spent on marketing grows the state economy by $2. VISIT FLORIDA has seen encouraging growth in emerging sectors, such as adventure tourism, which grew by 27% in 2019 after a concentrated marketing campaign.

To Young, that stat serves as a counter to claims by House Budget Chief Travis Cummings and others that VISIT FLORIDA isn’t what’s driving tourism, it’s county tax levies and ad campaigns mounted by tourist meccas such as Disney and Universal that draw in crowds.

Still, Young is not without allies. Galvano has been a consistent backer, telling Florida Politics last month that the agency is needed to counter headlines with the potential to scare off visitors.

“From my perspective, there are issues such as red tide, Zika, hurricanes that get mismessaged or overmessaged elsewhere that we need some sort of counterbalance to,” he said. “That’s where we are.”

Most of the state’s major business groups are also hoping lawmakers agree to keep VISIT FLORIDA around.

During a speech delivered at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum, Young called on business leaders to join the effort to save VISIT FLORIDA. She cited the $88.6 billion tourism adds to the state economy annually. Without visitors, she said, the average Florida family would have to pay more than $1,500 a year in increased taxes to balance the state budget.

“If the Legislature does not reauthorize us this Legislative Session, we will cease to exist on July 1. Florida’s tourism industry would go silent nationally and internationally,” she said at the October event. “If you believe that VISIT FLORIDA adds value, speak up.”

Her plea was met with a warm reception. The 13 statewide trade associations behind Florida Tourism Day are hoping lawmakers are as welcoming when they show up at the Capitol.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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