TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Representatives in the Florida House are proposing to cut off state funding for VISIT FLORIDA – the statewide marketing agency that has been instrumental in bringing visitors back after hurricanes and other disasters.
Instead of grant funding from the state, the proposal would draw money from the 62 local tourist development councils across Florida to fund the agency – a change that local tourism boards feel would undermine efforts that strengthened tourism to levels greater than pre-pandemic years.
On Tuesday, the House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee approved proposed funding changes to HB 5003, a general appropriations act. Large counties must give the state 5 percent of their tourism tax revenue. Rural counties would provide 2 percent of their tourism revenue.
“BRILLIANTLY BAD LEGISLATION”
Shortly after Hurricane Ian caused significant damage in parts of the state, VISIT FLORIDA launched a $2.7 million campaign to inform travelers that the “Sun is Shining in Florida.”
Governor DeSantis has proposed $50 million in state funding to VISIT FLORIDA. The public/private partnership is required to match those public funds dollar-for-dollar, bringing the total annual budget to $100 million.
Michael Corrigan, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville, told News Service of Florida the changes would mean that his organization would have to pay more than $1.5 million to VISIT FLORIDA, up from about $15,000 currently contributed.
“I think it is a brilliantly bad piece of legislation. The intent is to eliminate VISIT FLORIDA,” said Corrigan. “But in reality, it’s probably going to eliminate a lot of the local destination marketing organizations as well.”
VISIT FLORIDA’S CRITICAL ROLE
Rep. Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville) said the bill would be the equivalent of “Robin Hooding” the money to smaller counties. Visit Orlando President and CEO Casandra Matej said VISIT FLORIDA has been critical in responding to crises.
“Think oil spills, Zika, hurricanes, red tide, algae blooms, Pulse nightclub or Surfside. VISIT FLORIDA has always been there to correct the misperceptions and get tourism back on track,” said Matej.
Rep. Mike Giallombardo (R-Cape Coral) said he’s sponsoring the change because of “supply and demand” related to the growth in the state’s tourism numbers. In 2022, Florida saw 137.6 million visitors, 5 percent higher than the previous high number in 2019.
“Florida was open. We had no masks. People came to Florida because we were free. Our beaches were open,” Giallombardo said.
Giallombardo said he thinks VISIT FLORIDA may have had some impact in bringing visitors, but Florida “was all over the news.”