Florida’s tourism marketing agency received an outsized budget this year, but some lawmakers are asking about campaigns to encourage people to visit the Sunshine State, then stay.
In a presentation before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Monday, VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young highlighted the state’s recovery in tourism and the need to continue the state’s marketing momentum. Meanwhile, some on the panel might want to expand the advertising branch’s purpose.
Lawmakers from both parties inquired about the agency’s efforts to encourage people to move to Florida permanently. After a question from Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo asking whether the agency tries to convert visitors to permanent residents or homebuyers, Young said that’s not in its mission.
New Smyrna Beach Republican Sen. Tom Wright asked if promoting the space industry as a place for jobs could make it into future ads. He also extended the question to highlighting schools, the weather and angles that would appeal to young families.
“It is expensive. So clearly, if you wanted us to do that, we would be looking to you for significantly more funding,” Young replied.
Despite the Legislature bumping the agency’s budget from a recurring to nonrecurring pot last Session for the 2021-22 fiscal year — as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — and spending hesitancy from previous legislatures, Young and VISIT FLORIDA have reasons to be optimistic about future budgets.
Early last Session, House Speaker Chris Sprowls backed the need for VISIT FLORIDA. That was a deviation from his predecessors, José Oliva and Richard Corcoran, and an improvement for the agency.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also threw his support behind the agency in September 2020 as the state ended all COVID-19 restrictions.
Ultimately, lawmakers last Session approved an additional $25 million, a 50% increase, in spending that came out of federal COVID-19 relief, showing lawmakers’ additional faith in the tourism marketing organization. An additional grant saw its funds hit $80 million.
“I can assure you that I am a fiscal miser and that this money will go a long way and be spent for the things that it should be spent on,” Young said.
Looking ahead, she hopes to continue Florida’s tourism momentum from the pandemic.
For seven months, the Sunshine State was the only one advertising itself to vacation-goers from other states.
“Let that sink in. We were it,” Young said. “As people were watching TV and listening or Googling on their computer, all they were seeing was Florida, Florida, Florida, Florida.”
That was money well spent, she continued. That’s borne out in both headlines highlighting the state and in tourism data.
Between April and June, Florida saw 6% more visitors than the same period in 2019.
Hotel room revenue was up 11% in August compared to 2019, which was a record year. Meanwhile, the rest of the country saw a 5% decline. Vacation rentals are up 80%. Airplane seats en route to Florida are up 2%, while those elsewhere in the nation are down 18%.
Pizzo also had questions about a less fashionable — or even fashion-less — attraction. Pizzo, who is sponsoring a bill (SB 176) to decriminalize stripping naked at a nude beach, asked whether there is data on the economic impact of clothing-optional beaches, which he understood represented a $2 million impact.
“Well, I do know that it is the most visited part of our website,” Young said.