Despite a sluggish economy and a potential $3 billion-plus budget gap, Florida should more than double the states tourism marketing budget under a proposal sent to Gov.-elect Rick Scott Wednesday by his transition team.
Nestled in a 109-page economic development proposal, the team called for ramping up marketing efforts by earmarking $62.5 million for Visit Florida, the states tourism marketing arm. The sum would more than double the $29.4 million the state now spends to promote its beaches, attractions and leisure lifestyle to potential visitors.
Private industry has been outspending the state by more than two-to-one on marketing since 1996, a ratio the Scott team said needs to be changed.
Scott said the state should be spending a dollar for every one the private sector spends to help boost the states signature industry, which is still reeling from recession and a summer oil spill that crippled the Panhandle region and sent a pall over the entire peninsula and into the Keys.
The transition team says Floridas goal should be nothing less than making Florida the No. 1 tourism destination in the country.
Florida now ranks fifth nationally in tourism office spending, according to statistics from the U.S. Travel Association cited in the report. The proposal would boost the states rank to second behind only Hawaii. If matching funds are secured, the combined marketing power would top the public spending of France, Spain or Australia.
The expanded effort would translate into 35,500 additional jobs a year and $3.6 billion in additional direct spending, the report estimates.
The plan represents the first detailed glimpse of what Scotts tourism agenda may include, though Scott officials have cautioned the transition team memos are merely suggestions not necessarily the exact route the new governor will take when he gets to work Jan. 4.
The tourism stimulus proposal follows a dismal summer season that brought Northwest Florida to its knees. Since soon after the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, hotel and lodging officials have been clamoring for a coordinated state effort to save what they could of the summer season.
Those officials are now worried that visitors went elsewhere in 2010 will not return in 2011, a scenario they fear could come about if the state doesnt spend the money needed to lure tourists back.
"What keeps me awake at night in regard to Northwest Florida is all those people who went to Myrtle Beach last year instead of going to Destin or Panama City Beach or Pensacola, Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, said last week. Did they find something there that they enjoyed so they are going to try it one more year?"