The Florida House voted on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to extend the lifespan of VISIT FLORIDA, the state-subsidized tourism marketing agency, for 6 additional years through 2028. Representatives will now have to reach an agreement with the Senate, which voted to extend funding through 2031. Opponents of the bill, however, are critical of the high level of subsidized funding the agency will receive on an annual basis.
Americans for Prosperity – Florida (AFP-FL) has been one of the strongest opponents of the bill, claiming that Florida’s commitment to keeping businesses open through the COVID-19 pandemic has done a better job drawing in tourists than the agency that once gave rapper Pitbull a $1 million contract.
“Over the past few years, the best marketing for Florida has been Gov. Ron DeSantis empowering individuals and businesses to innovate throughout the pandemic instead of mandating top-down approaches, maintaining the option of in-person schooling, and working to keep Florida as one of the freest states in the nation,” AFP-FL Director Skylar Zander said. “Florida doesn’t need a tourism and marketing program – our Governor is marketing our state more effectively than any 30-second advertisement could. Let’s stop wasting Florida’s taxpayer dollars on these types of programs.”
Zander said the new legislation, which grants more taxpayer dollars to the organization, amounts to “corporate welfare.” Blocking so-called corporate welfare and its unfair impacts on Florida residents is one of AFP-FL’s top priorities for the 2022 legislative session, the group said.
House bill sponsor Rep. Linda Chaney, tried to assure lawmakers they would continue to have control of funding for Visit Florida if the extension is granted. In the Senate, the extension vote received a single ‘nay’ vote from Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr.
“We still have control over their money, and we still have oversight,” Chaney said
Despite the reassurance, VISIT FLORIDA has drawn fire in the past after spending $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and frivolous sponsorship deals with London-based Fulham Football Club, among others. Lawmakers have additionally questioned the efficacy of VISIT FLORIDA’s end product, given that the state hosts a plethora of natural resources that innately draw tourists.
Tampa Bay Times reported that in 2021 VISIT FLORIDA Chairman Danny Gaekwad told members of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors that the agency planned to request at least $75 million for tourism marketing during the ongoing Legislative Session.
The reported $75 million is more than the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will receive for community-based services, counties will receive for crime lab investigation services, and the state will allocate for homelessness aversion initiatives combined.