Now that the 2019 legislative session is in the rearview mirror, the question that remans is what will be VISIT FLORIDA’s role in marketing the Sunshine State to the rest of the world in the coming years?
The state’s tourism marketing agency won yet another reprieve in the budget approved by lawmakers on Saturday.
It’s the third year in a row the agency has withstood efforts by the Florida House to gut funding for the agency. It appeared the agency was doomed until Gov. Ron DeSantis intervened late in the budget process.
“I didn’t think letting it run aground now would have been the right thing for the state,” he said. “It going to have to be something we look at going forward.”
The House was ready to close the doors on the agency proposing the state fund VISIT FLORIDA at $19 million dollars — enough to keep the agency open through Oct. 1 when it was due to sunset.
“The governor’s office has expressed a desire to have it continued, to go forward, so that he would have the opportunity to make an assessment of his own of how unnecessary it is,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva during budget negotiations. “I don’t know about fully funding it, but obviously it is something that the governor wants to see and it’s something that he wants to be able to assess, and we want to be supportive of him.”
Lawmakers agreed to fund the agency at $50 million, a $26 million cut from the current budget. They also voted to keep the agency in operation for another year, giving the governor time to assess the value of the agency.
“Tourism is Florida’s number one economic driver and VISIT FLORIDA is critical to keeping this revenue-generating industry relevant and vibrant. We are glad that we are able to continue to deliver incredible results on behalf of Florida’s hardworking taxpayers,” VISIT FLORIDA President & CEO Dana Young said in a written statement emailed to The Capitolist.
“Florida’s tourism industry is crucial to our state’s economy. It means jobs, economic growth and much more to countless tourism-reliant small businesses in communities around Florida,” said Robert Skrob, executive director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (FADMO), speaking in support of VISIT FLORIDA.
Skrob notes Florida’s $112 billion tourism industry supports 1.4 million jobs and helps Florida families save $1,549 each year in taxes. More than one-fifth of all the sales tax revenue generated in Florida comes from a strong tourism industry, which funds a significant portion of Florida’s budget.
He says a lot of the credit for those numbers goes to VISIT FLORIDA.
“While we are thrilled the Florida Legislature provided funding to VISIT FLORIDA this year, we must continue to advocate for full funding at $76 million and reauthorization of the organization,” Skrob added. “Every dollar we put into VISIT FLORIDA brings our state a two-dollar return on investment, and we hope our state leaders will continue to see the value of this organization.”
The agency is a public-private partnership that works with local tourism marketing organizations. The governor says reforming the agency is something he would support. He suggested reforms would mean more contributions on the part of the industry.
“I welcome reforms to it. I mean I welcome making industry come up and pony up more money. I think that would be great. So, there are things we can do,” DeSantis said.
“I think we should reauthorize it in some fashion, but it can be reformed,” the governor added.
The $50 million is half of what then Gov. Rick Scott proposed in his 2017 proposed budget. That’s the same year Visit Florida’s spending practices were first questioned by the House, including a $11.6 million contract for a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagassee and a $1 million contract with Miami rapper Pitbull intended promote Florida.
Provisions were added that year to make the agency more accountable and transparent in its spending practices and, in turn, it was agreed that the agency would retain its $76 million budget, a number that was repeated in the current budget.