Gov. Ron DeSantis looks in no hurry to sunset VISIT FLORIDA for good. Mercifully. Let's hope his strong support will end any further discussion to shutter the state's busy and effective tourism agency. And, instead, fund it the full $76 million that's helped make it the envy of every state in the nation.
VISIT FLORIDA is one of the Sunshine State's best assets, and always has been.
The governor made the point Monday by visiting Tampa International Airport, putting his support into words and discussing the benefits that tourism provides Florida. Joining DeSantis was VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young, Enterprise Florida President and CEO Jamal Sowell, state and community leaders and representatives from Tampa International Airport, including the airport's CEO, Joe Lopano.
“I was happy to visit Tampa International Airport to discuss the role tourism plays in generating economic development to Florida,” DeSantis said after the event. “This industry has never been stronger, and the benefits of tourism to our state are shared by every Floridian. We have so much going for us here ... so we must continue to invest in bringing people here to enjoy everything we have to offer.”
The state had an all-time record of 126.1 million visitors in 2018, a 6.2 percent increase from the previous record of 118.8 million visitors in 2017. This marked the eighth consecutive record year for visitation to Florida. VISIT FLORIDA and DeSantis also announced Monday that tourism to the state saves each Florida family more than $1,500 annually.
Consider the string of bad press Florida has endured in recent years: from the Pulse nightclub massacre to the Zika virus, from algae and red tide to massive, coast-devastating hurricanes. Yet, the state's tourism still cranks out winning marketing programs and VISIT FLORIDA's numbers still rise.
According to The Economic Impact of Out-of-State Visitors in Florida, released last year by Tourism Economics, in 2016, out-of-state tourism generated $11.6 billion in state and local taxes. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were more than 7.5 million Florida households from 2013 to 2017. This equates to that annual tax savings of $1,549 per household which the governor highlighted Monday.
Investing in the Florida tourism industry, particularly international tourism, plays a significant role in generating economic development to the state, with Tampa International Airport being an integral partner, DeSantis said.
VISIT FLORIDA chief Dana Young said, “This Tax Day, we are proud to highlight the critical economic role that tourism plays in Florida, and how every household in Florida benefits from out-of-state visitation. Saving $1,549 in taxes is a great deal for Floridians and something the tourism industry is proud to generate. At VISIT FLORIDA, our job is to enhance and protect this vital industry and revenue source."
Since the airport began working to bring new international flights to Florida in 2012, it is estimated that international passengers visiting the Tampa Bay area have poured more than $1.3 billion into Florida’s economy. In addition, the growth of international passengers has generated in excess of $88 million in tax revenue and has supported nearly 18,000 jobs in the Tampa Bay region alone.
Young made one more pitch to skeptical legislators. "The Florida Legislature shouldn’t cut VISIT FLORIDA’s budget and risk a significant drop in tourism dollars," Young said. "VISIT FLORIDA fully funded at $76 million is a smart investment. A cut in funding could place a heavier tax burden on Florida citizens and strain state budget revenue. The Legislature should reauthorize and fully fund VISIT FLORIDA at $76 million.”
In 2018 Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, told Sunshine State News Florida’s tourism numbers continue to make it stand out from all other tourist destinations in the country. Dow, a Florida resident, attributed part of the state’s success to the ease of getting here and the continued expansion of air service into major airports.
“Florida has become the darling for the travel industry around not only the U.S., but the world,” Dow said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders.” He said VISIT FLORIDA was "second to none" as a state tourism marketing arm.
The Senate backs SB 178, seeking to fund with an eight-year sunset date the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corp., which does business as Visit Florida. Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, added the sunset provision last week, saying she believes all such programs should include the provision and will address a sunset review policy later. Senators think setting such a date would likely require the VISIT FLORIDA to be reauthorized later on. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, argues the tourism agency’s funding should last only until the agency’s legal authorization runs out, which is scheduled for Oct. 1. Then, he has said, the agency as a separate entity can die.
The Governor's Office believes that in the end, the House will negotiate. Let's hope so.
Florida's got a Rolex. Why on earth would we want to take it apart? Gov. DeSantis showed Monday he gets it.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.