The governor of Florida, USA, Rick Scott, is taking to the airwaves as he leads the fight against Republican state lawmakers who voted to slash the state’s tourism budget by 70%, to a $25m figure.
Scott filmed a 30-second TV advert, in which he lambasts ‘Tallahassee politicians who don’t get it’. Governor Scott said over 1m Florida families rely on jobs in the tourism industry and that a 2% drop in tourism would mean the loss of 28,000 jobs in the southern state.
“They don’t understand how jobs are created,” said Scott referring to politicians that had voted to decimate the budget following news that a $1m had been paid to rapper ‘Pitbull’ to promote Florida. The agency had refused to make that news public before it was exposed by the media, leading to the resignation of then CEO Will Seccombe.
Republican representative for Palm Coast Paul Renner, sponsor of the bill, to cut back funding for the tourism board said: “We’re putting them on a leash — a short leash.” Visit Florida includes several local CVB brands under its auspices.
The House representatives aim to cap salaries for Visit Florida staffers at $130,000 per year, with travel expenses and contract spending having to follow state rules. Visit Florida board members would be banned from receiving freebies from entities that receive bed tax revenue.
As the internal debate plays out, Visit Florida has had to reassure the trade that it is not about to disappear, despite a move to slash its funding.
Visit Florida international sales and market development vice-president Alfredo Gonzalez said the future was uncertain, but tried to rally morale: “Visit Florida is not going anywhere; we are here to stay. Our commitment to promoting the destination will not waiver. However much we get, we will figure it out. We will just get creative.”
A Save Florida Tourism online campaign has been set up to fight the budget cut. Campaigners point to Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research that indicates that for every dollar Visit Florida spends, the state receives $3.20 in return. That type of return led to $108.8bn in visitor spending in 2015, according to the Miami Herald.
The state has also seen a steady rise in visitors, with the annual amount increasing from 82m to 112.8m over the last seven years (2009 to 2016).
Paul Nussbaum, CEO of Waramaug Hospitality, a company that owns hotel properties across Florida, noted that when, in 1993, Colorado decided to cut its tourism marketing operation, “two years later, it experienced a 30% decrease in travellers and a loss of $1.4bn in annual revenue”.