More storm clouds appear to be looming over the state agency that is tasked with the job of promoting Florida’s sunshine, beaches and other tourist attractions.
Bill Lupfer, president and CEO of the Florida Attractions Association, announced that he has resigned from the board of directors of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.
Lupfer, whose association represents a number of smaller tourist attractions across Florida, told board members at their meeting Thursday that he was stepping down effective immediately. He cited frustration with the negative fallout from a budget battle earlier this year between Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders.
“The Visit Florida Board of Directors is leading our industry through unchartered waters,” Lupfer wrote in his resignation letter. He was alluding to the new open government policies Visit Florida must now follow.
The problems dogging the agency started when House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, expressed concern over what he saw as Visit Florida’s lack of transparency and extravagant spending practices.
The speaker was particularly upset with a secretive $1 million contract Visit Florida awarded rapper Pitbull to promote Florida.
Corcoran moved to gut funding for the agency, which angered Scott. Visit Florida is one of the governor’s budget priorities.
The governor and House speaker resolved their differences and, in a special session, lawmakers restored Visit Florida’s budget in exchange for some concessions from the governor.
One of those concessions was Visit Florida would have to operate in the sunshine regarding its business dealings.
The impact of the budget dispute resulted in the departure of several key Visit Florida officials. Their resignations forced the agency to scramble to fill the vacancies.
The requirement that the agency had to be more transparent in its operating practices caused a dozen local tourism boards–including Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay and the Florida Keys–to end their partnerships with Visit Florida on July 1. The local boards were concerned about having to follow the new transparency rules imposed by the Legislature on the state marketing agency.
Thursday’s resignation of Lupfer is the latest in the ripple effect stemming from the budget dispute.
Earlier this week, Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson sent a memo to industry partners in which he thanked Scott and the partners for fighting to restore funding to Visit Florida. He said “the battle was hard and messy. It is now time to heal and come together.”
There is obviously more healing needed within Visit Florida and the state’s tourism industry.