Talk about bitter ironies. Today, at the same time beaten-down VISIT FLORIDA was approving a $3.65 million payroll cut and a cut of $17.8 million in strategic marketing -- Florida's tourism-marketing arm was making a different kind of headline.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced this morning that Florida broke an all-time record for visitation during the first quarter of 2019, with 35.7 million people visiting the Sunshine State from January to March. We're looking at a 5.8 percent increase from the first quarter of 2018.
“An all-time record quarter of visitation is exciting news for the entire state,” said DeSantis. “As we work to diversify Florida’s economy, it is critical that we keep visitation to Florida, and the revenue it generates, healthy and robust. VISIT FLORIDA plays an important role in this goal and we will continue to support their work on behalf of Florida and our hardworking taxpayers.”
“The record-breaking success of Florida’s visitation is the result of the hard work of our state’s entire tourism industry,” said VISIT FLORIDA President & CEO Dana Young. “It’s exciting that VISIT FLORIDA continues to play a major role in bringing more people to Florida and I remain confident in the value provided by tourism marketing. Every Floridian should be proud that people from around the world come to explore our state. We must continue our efforts to promote and protect visitation to Florida.”
VISIT FLORIDA estimates that a record 31.6 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in Q1 2019, a 6.8 percent increase in domestic visitors over the same period last year. Following VISIT FLORIDA’s enhanced focus on attracting visitors from Canada through a cutting-edge marketing campaign, 1.4 million Canadian visitors came to Florida in Q1 2019, an increase of 1.3 percent from Q1 2018. Florida saw more than 2.6 million overseas travelers in Q1 2019. Total enplanements at 19 major Florida airports in Q1 2019 increased 6.8 percent over the same period in the previous year, with Orlando International Airport reporting the most enplaned passengers at more than 6.4 million.
Meanwhile, the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations -- basically representing every county in Florida -- bemoaned the agency's job losses.
"Tourism marketing and promotion in Florida means more than just advertising to welcome out-of-state visitors," the organization said in press statement. "Florida’s tourism economy puts 1.4 million people to work. And, unfortunately, many more Floridians will soon be feeling the uncertainty and sting of unemployment because VISIT FLORIDA was underfunded this legislative session.
"People don’t come to Florida by accident – it takes the partnerships between businesses, local marketing organizations and VISIT FLORIDA to help small and local tourism-reliant businesses thrive and grow. We are hopeful Florida’s leadership will continue to see the value in having organizations dedicated to promoting Florida’s tourism offerings in this incredibly competitive industry, and by doing so, send a clear message to all Floridians that their jobs and our economy matter.”
The House of Representatives leadership had sought to eliminate VISIT FLORIDA during the session just ended. It was due for sunset in October. The public-private agency remains alive only because DeSantis asked for another year to evaluate its productivity.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NLBSmith