Florida tourism advocates are battling again for promotional money, only this time it has nothing to do with VISIT FLORIDA.
And in this case, the House is supporting money to promote Florida’s tourism and leisure sector — hoping the Senate budget leaders will come around.
The fate of a proposed $1 million appropriation to support in-state marketing of restaurant and lodging industry, used since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 to shore up distressed regions, is in the hands of budget conference chairs.
The appropriation, originally sponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein is funded in the House budget proposal, but not in the Senate proposal.
The money is to come from the Hotels and Restaurants Trust Fund, set up after that 2010 disaster crashed much of the beachside economies of the Florida Panhandle. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has annually used it, together with required matching grants from its members and from local governments and chambers of commerce and tourism bureaus, to set up small-scale marketing promotions and events to assist areas that have been hurt by disasters ranging from hurricanes to the Zika virus.
Carol Dover, president of the association, said the projects have worked, from the start, when it helped the Panhandle beach communities go from bust to boom following the oil spill crisis.
“Of all years not to fund it, now we have the coronavirus,” Dover said. “And so cruise ships are being hurt.”
“We’ve always got something to be promoting,” she added. “A million dollars is not a lot, but we use it very frugally. We get a one-to-one match, and sometimes a two-to-one match.”
The VISIT FLORIDA money won what has become an annual one-year reprieve on Sunday when the same budget conference leaders, led by Rep. Travis Cummings, agreed to give the tourism marketing operation $50 million. The difference is VISIT FLORIDA spends its money to promote Florida outside of Florida, while the Hotels and Restaurants Trust Fund is used for in-state marketing.