Mr. Speaker, COVID-19 should end the war on VISIT FLORIDA

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Enough is enough.

It’s time to quit kicking the VISIT FLORIDA can down the road.

For the last couple of years, the state’s tourism marketing arm has faced an uncertain future as lawmakers have debated whether it should even exist.

We have all watched the war rage on, with Speaker José Oliva leading the effort to end the agency. So far, Oliva has been on the winning side.

Though VISIT FLORIDA is still pitching the state as a premier tourism destination, it has spent the last year doing so from its deathbed after lawmakers kowtowed to Oliva in the 2019 Legislative Session by slashing the agency’s funding by a third and leaving in place a July 1, 2020, expiration date.

The push to end VISIT FLORIDA has continued despite state economists warning that a downturn in tourism is the biggest risk to our economy. Government watchdogs such as Florida TaxWatch have issued the same caution.

The House has remained resolute even as the state breaks visitation records year after year and VISIT FLORIDA produces evidence showing direct links between tourism growth and its marketing efforts.  

The argument to end VISIT FLORIDA has thus far been pitched as a fiscally responsible cause, yet it’s $50 million expense amounts to a drop in the bucket in the state’s $90 billion-plus budget.

But alas, here we are with less than two weeks remaining in Session with no decision on the future of Florida’s tourism agency.

Even as the Florida Senate unanimously passed the Governor’s recommendation by approving an eight-year reauthorization for VISIT FLORIDA, Oliva hasn’t allowed any debate on the topic.

Why not? Because his hubris won’t allow it.

Sources tell Florida Politics that the Florida House is ready to keep VISIT FLORIDA’s funding at $50 million but will only move to reauthorize the agency for another one-year period.

That was before COVID-19 showed up in Florida.

As I mentioned Sunday, when Florida Politics broke the news that the state had two presumptive cases of COVID-19, this year’s Legislative Session flipped upside down.

Now, the focus of the entire state is the threat of coronavirus transmission and the potential impact on our economy and way of life.

By this time tomorrow, half the country will know about the two presumptive positives in Florida, impacting spring break plans, summer vacations and more. VISIT FLORIDA is Florida’s only mouthpiece for fighting back and reassuring the world that our state is open for business.

The challenge brought by coronavirus should lead the House to fully embrace VISIT FLORIDA and its unique ability to positively message our state’s number one industry — tourism —  and a one-year reauthorization simply won’t cut it. 

What is the rationale for simply kicking the can down the road? What private business or other government agency could possibly operate under those limitations? How could members of the House argue that leaving VISIT FLORIDA in a weakened position helps our state deal with coronavirus?

This needs to end.

Representatives should tell Oliva that they support reauthorizing VISIT FLORIDA for years to come. The threat of coronavirus should give the members of the House who support keeping the agency around) the ammunition they need to tell leadership that enough is enough.

If they don’t, they’ll return home after Session to questions on why they left VISIT FLORIDA hobbled. Especially when the organization is backed by the Governor and the entire Senate.

This presents a real liability for House Republicans because they didn’t bother to debate the issue during the last two Legislative Sessions.

Our state needs tourism and tourism needs VISIT FLORIDA, especially when coronavirus subsides and the state is clamoring for more economic activity. The risk to our tourism-driven economy from coronavirus and other disasters is too great to put an end to VISIT FLORIDA.

It’s time to end this war, Mr. Speaker.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Bill Richards

    March 3, 2020 at 10:56 am

    Outstanding call to action. To contemplate undercutting our state’s tourism marketing agency would have disastrous economic consequences.

  • Robin Miller

    March 3, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you! Everyone should share this with Mr. Speaker

  • Informed Party

    March 3, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    The VISIT FLORIDA issue is so much larger than what’s being outlined. When Governor Scott called for the heads of VISIT FLORIDA’s top brass in January 2017, it started an unparalleled downward spiral. State government hacks now run the organization. They aren’t marketers. They aren’t tourism people. They’re people biding their time until their next government appointment. The few long-term staffers left in management are running roughshod over the place. Qualified staffers have left (and continue to leave) in droves. VISIT FLORIDA is not what it used to be. Not even close. It’s time to let it go off into the sunset.

    • Charlie Givens

      March 5, 2020 at 8:57 am

      Right you are, Informed Party. The organization is a shell of its former self and is indeed run by politicians who have no business in tourism. Just take a look at the people running the show over there – all connected politically. All of the talent has left the organization and continues to leave. VISIT FLORIDA is vital for our economy, especially in times of crisis as Peter noted, but for the last 3 years, it has spiraled downwards because of political involvement. There’s a reason VISIT FLORIDA was set up as a private-public partnership. Sure, the Disneys and Universals will be fine, but it’s the smaller counties and destinations who will suffer. The best thing to do now is the shutter the organization to clear out the politicians and, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, create a new VISIT FLORIDA that doesn’t rely so heavily on the general budget. But for now, the blood of a crumbling VISIT FLORIDA is on the hands of Corcoran and Oliva – and this Floridian will never forget.

  • Bobby R

    March 3, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Oh my goodness. Scaremonger much? IF the coronavirus ends up being a threat to FL it’s because of ignorant scare tactics & that’s it. BUT when it does subside, people will want to go on vacation again & when they do they will continue to choose FL…because, where else where they go? SC? GA? Please. People come here for our beaches that are unmatched. They come here for the Orlando attractions, which are unmatched. They come here for warmer weather in winter, which is unmatched. FL is known, no need to spend money telling people something they already know.

    • Pete H.

      March 3, 2020 at 8:10 pm

      You’re right, there are a good bit of people who are aware of Miami, Orlando, and probably Panama City for spring breakers, but Visit FL extends outreach efforts to include small businesses in lesser known areas of FL and those small businesses do count on the messaging and marketing Visit FL does on their behalf. The point was made about $50 million is a drop in the bucket in terms of operating costs for the department and the data does indicate that what Visit FL does in terms of marketing and outreach helps to prop these small businesses up and also identify pockets of FL people don’t automatically think when they plan travel arrangements, but still might consider visiting, which in turn, leads to revenue for the state.

  • Judy B.

    March 3, 2020 at 8:43 pm

    In my experience as a marketing professional, the results of marketing are taken for granted while the work that made it possible largely ignored. And, as a Florida transplant born in California, raised in the northeast, and most recently residing in the midwest, I can attest that the easy sell of Florida is not as easy as some Floridians assume.

    My out-of-state friends were aghast at the news of my moving to Florida. Hurricanes? Face eating? Legally being murdered over a disagreement at the grocery store? Screaming families in theme parks? They couldn’t believe I would voluntarily move to such a place. Nevermind our state’s unparalleled beauty, attractive tax climate, and diverse culture. The negative Florida stereotype is very much alive among the traveling public, and will only continue to spread should our foolish legislators in the Florida House kill Visit Florida.

  • Sonja Emily Fitch

    March 4, 2020 at 6:05 am


Comments are closed.


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