17 FEB 2017: A week ago we asked, “What’s in their orange juice?” when, despite considerable opposition, the Florida House Careers and Competition subcommittee passed a bill to pull state funding for Visit Florida. We still don’t know what they’re drinking, and unless Florida orange juice has developed some hallucinatory qualities – it’s still a mystery.

Different strokes

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Governor Rick Scott, both Republicans, are on opposite sides of this issue with vastly differing opinions on how government can produce economic growth and jobs. Corcoran vehemently attacked Visit Florida’s ‘handouts’ (as he terms them) and introduced the bill denying Scott the funding to achieve his top priority — making Florida No. 1 in job creation.

Scott believes in government spending to attract and assist businesses and tourists to Florida. He is as confident in this as a sound investment, as Corcoran is in condemning such spending as ‘corporate welfare.’

Corcoran said recently that, "If we got rid of Visit Florida, what happens next is private companies pay for private company advertisements. But if they can get somebody else to pay for it, they will."

While that may be true - if you don’t have to pay you generally wont do so - private companies with the budgets to market globally generally exist in big market areas – so they are going to spend their money attracting visitors to Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale et al. - areas that already get large numbers of visitors.

Meanwhile smaller destinations will find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

And that’s the shame of it.

Of course the ‘big guys’ will continue to attract tourists – and hotel chains will continue to advertise - but Florida is so much more than beach and theme parks, and visitors today want to go to different places and try new things.

But they have to be told they are there.

It’s those gems off the beaten path, the historical sites, the art galleries and museums, smaller counties and rural areas – the beauty of Old Florida – these are the places that do not have the funding to compete globally, and their economies, without the influx of tourism dollars, will atrophy and die leaving Florida’s wonders unexplored and thousands across the state without jobs or means of earning a livelihood.

Let’s see what Visit Florida accomplished in 2015:

With bipartisan support, Visit Florida's state funding increased from US $26.6 million in 2011 to $78 million this year. Next year, it's asking for $76 million. That’s a lot of money but this is a State dependent on tourism.

• 106.6 million out of state and international visitors from 190 countries (that’s a record)

The top three global markets:

• 3.8 million from Canada
• 1.7 million from the UK
• 1.5 million from Brazil

• 1 in 5 international visitors to the US come to Florida.

Do the proponents of dumping the state’s Tourism Organization think this is accidental? Do they imagine an English family in Moreton-in-Marsh who are considering a US holiday, wake up one morning and Mum says, “Haven’t heard much about Florida lately, let’s go take a dekko!”

Or are they more likely to say, “That video on the Napa Valley was amazing. Let’s have our hols there this year.”

And Canadians, who admittedly know, love, own property and think Florida is just a Canadian province with better weather, could easily be led astray by some aggressive marketing by South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, and always California and New York. And don’t think plenty of others won’t be joining in, like sirens singing sweetly to their northern neighbours.

And let us never forget the other Canadian outposts – Mexico and the Caribbean.

 Job creation in 2015

• Visitor spending supported 1.4 million jobs in Florida.

• Every 76 visitors to the state supports 1 tourism job

• $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue was generate by travel and tourism

And a brief look at tourism spending:

• Visitors spent an average of $300 million a day and the annual spend is increasing each year:

• 2011 - $87.4 billion
• 2012 - $91.5 billion
• 2013 – $98.5 billion
• 2014 – $104.7 billion
• 2015 - $108.8 billion

Bet on it

Former Visit Florida CMO Dale Brill, said in a statement, “The bet being placed is whether Florida can continue to win when the Legislature withdraws our state tourism brand from a competitive marketplace.

“My invited testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee provided empirical evidence that Florida lost tourism market share from 2005-2012, coincidentally under conditions in which competitor sun states increased their marketing as we decreased ours.

“So, it’s not a blind wager, it’s almost a sure thing that history will repeat itself—and Florida will lose $4.3 billion in tourist spending for every 1% of market share lost.” (Our italics)

Time to spend

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) is strongly opposed to any legislation that would prevent Visit Florida from marketing the State as a global destination. They know that to essentially defund and dismantle Visit Florida would put the state at a serious competitive disadvantage – one from which it could take years to recover.

Other states and destinations are aggressively marketing themselves to attract the attention of global travellers. With last year’s political turmoil and discord showing little signs of abatement and polls showing tourism to the US slumping, this really is the worst possible time to cut back funding for a popular tourist destination.

One report by travel intelligence agency ForwardKeys, found that in the eight days after the travel ban was issued, overall visitor numbers to the US fell 6.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

Net bookings from the countries banned obviously suffered the biggest plunge — down 80 percent. But travel bookings suggest the bans are taking a toll on other areas.

Bookings from Asia-Pacific were down 14 percent, travel from the Middle East was down 37.5 percent and travel from Northern Europe decreased 6.6 percent, Western Europe 13.6 percent and Southern Europe down 2.9 percent.

Forward bookings for the next three months were up 2.3 percent compared with 2016, but prior to the travel bans, bookings were running 3.4 percent ahead of last year.

The Truth

Visit Florida's new CEO, Ken Lawson, who has no previous experience in the travel and tourism sector, issued the following statement in reaction to Florida's new bill, "At Governor Scott's Jobs Summit in Orlando, I led a panel discussion on Visit Florida's vital role in ensuring (that) Florida's tourism industry remains the top tax revenue and jobs producer in the state.

“I told the more than 500 CEOs and business leaders in the audience that I was there to tell the truth, and the truth is Visit Florida matters.”

Very commendable, but this is just talk and it’s going to take serious thought, planning and action - not political blather - to save Visit Florida and get it back on track.

Governor Scott doesn’t have anything to lose, his term is up in 2018 and Florida has term limits, so he can’t run again. Why he’s not exercising a bit more muscle to save what he knows is a winning proposition could mean he simply doesn’t want to ruffle feathers as, if rumours are to be believed, he prepares to run for the US Senate. And conversely, is Corcoran building up a public profile as a defender of the public purse with an eye on the Governor’s chair? Oh, what a tangled web…

But the simple truth is Florida needs Visit Florida.

And Visit Florida needs a knight in shining armour! Knight, hell! It needs the round table full of knights!

 Related article: Visit Where


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