The Florida Senate voted on Thursday to extend the lifespan of VISIT FLORIDA, the state-subsidized tourism marketing agency, for 8 additional years through 2031. Opponents of the bill, however, are skeptical of the funding going into the agency on a yearly basis.
Filed by Sen. Ed Hooper, Senate Bill 434 (SB 434) postpones a previously settled agreement to rid the state of the controversial marketing agency with an average budget of over $65 million per year. Lawmakers have long questioned the agency’s existence, arguing that its marketing efforts do little to lure tourists to the Sunshine State, especially since most of the state’s major attractions already promote tourism on their own.
Despite lawmakers’ hesitancy, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate with a vote of 36 ‘yeas’ to a single ‘nay,’ from Sen. Manny Díaz Jr.
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.
“AFP-FL works hard to protect Floridians’ hard-earned dollars by opposing public funding for unwarranted purposes,” said Zander. “We should not allow our legislators to pick and choose what they want to see succeed in our economy – it should be our choice. After all, we know that the best way to actually promote economic growth is by ensuring that everyone is competing fairly.”
A House counterpart bill, House Bill 489 (HB 489), filed by Rep. Linda Chaney claims that VISIT FLORIDA assists smaller cities and towns in capturing attention from Florida’s major tourist attractions – Disney, Miami, beach resorts, etc.
A wise man once said, “build it and they will come.”
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.
In the first half of 2021 alone, Florida welcomed nearly 59 million tourists, with Orlando, Miami, and Key West being among the most visited cities.