10 FEB 2017: Despite strong opposition by Governor Rick Scott and from the state’s tourism industry, the Florida House Careers and Competition subcommittee passed a bill on Wednesday afternoon to pull state funding for VisitFlorida. After over 100 speakers representing the tourism industry warned the bill threatened businesses and jobs, the committee voted 10-5 against funding and that bright move can essentially kill the tourism marketing organization and will, make no mistake, have an impact on tourism to the Sunshine State. California, and New York, among others, must be delighted.
Governor Scott earlier criticized the attempt claiming it would hurt Florida’s economic growth and job creation and that smaller tourism entities would suffer.
Critics argued that smaller businesses would be more vulnerable to the impact of the bill than Florida’s tourism industry heavyweights.
The vote is a blow to Scott who had asked the legislature to increase Visit Florida’s budget to US $76 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Scott criticized the House, saying the move to defund VisitFlorida would hurt Florida's economic momentum.
But Scott had some stiff opposition. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, for reasons not entirely clear, is determined to kill both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which oversees state business incentive programmes. Corcoran says the state's investment is a waste of money.
And State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, said he wasn’t deterred at all from pushing the legislation. He said economic incentives are inherently unfair because it is essentially the government picking some companies for incentives over others.
“For me, this issue is an easy issue,” Renner said. “It’s not hard to stand on principle.” That’s all very well, but what principle would that be?
Economic incentives are necessary – vital even - for some companies to grow and remain competitive. It cannot be an ‘all for one-one for all’ scenario in tourism, especially in Florida.
Corcoran’s railing against Visit Florida comes after a fair share of negative publicity the past year.
The organization has, to some extent, only itself to blame for mishandling some high profile issues. Last December, in the latest and most widely reported fiasco - Governor Scott called for, and received, the resignation of Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe, after an unnecessarily secret contract paid Miami rapper Pitbull US $1 million to promote Florida. It should be noted that $1million is not out-of-line for such a contract, but the secrecy and ludicrously redacted pages that were finally released caused an uproar and led Scott to ask the agency to create new policies that increase transparency.
And, in the bizarre new atmosphere of government by 140 characters, Corcoran tweeted this week, "Spending more taxpayer money on VISIT FL (or less) has not demonstrated a direct impact on tourism"
Corcoran then published data that showed that between 2011 to 2015, Visit Florida funding increased from $34 million to $74 million, or a roughly 112 percent change increase. In that same period, the number of visitors only showed a approximately 22 percent change increase.
But that is not the whole story.
A primary objective of marketing tourism is getting more people to spend more money when they’re at the destination. In a state that historically has long stay visitors, spend is certainly a more accurate means of determining the return on investment. It cannot be just about visitation – it’s how long they stay and how much they spend while they are there..
Corcoran’s claim that spending money on Visit Florida doesn’t have a direct impact on the tourism is nonsensical and other states must be watching with delight – and rubbing their hands in glee. California? New York? South Carolina? Georgia, Texas? Louisiana? Set your sights – you can start with Canada. Here’s your opportunity to persuade some of those long (and short) stay snowbirds to look elsewhere – nobody spends more money in Florida than Canadians.
Still, it is far from over. This is politics after all, and the legislation has to meander through more committee stops in the House and Florida Senate so that everyone gets a chance to pitch in.
And, in the event it actually passes both chambers, Governor Scott can veto the bill when it lands on his desk.
Still one wonders - dumping VisitFlorida – what’s in their orange juice?