Last Friday, the State House voted to place restrictions on the flexibility with which Visit Florida can spend its resources. House Speaker Richard Corcoran had originally wanted to kill the tourism promotion agency much like he has tried to do with Enterprise Florida, but backed off instead opting to put provisions on how Visit Florida can spend its money in wake of the $1 million contract singer Pitbull was given in the dark.
Florida should not have to spend public money to promote itself as an established tourism destination goes the narrative that opposes the spending. While on the surface this sounds good it simply isn’t true in this competitive marketplace for tourism. The reality is for a state so dependent on tourism dollars, particularly those from overseas we face more competition for tourist visits from abroad than ever before. As we continue to grow as a state, we have to attract more tourist, especially those from overseas who spend a week to ten days in the state. Unlike the 1980’s or 1990’s, the tourist development of exotic locales such as Caribbean islands, the Maldives and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, increased traffic to the Pacific Islands and tropical destinations in the Middle East require aggressive promotion of Florida. These factors also necessitate a creative approach with local and international partners to stimulate continued industry in Florida’s tourist sector.
It’s also worth noting many of these exotic destinations are even more aggressive than Florida in promoting themselves and Visit Florida in many ways is simply reacting to the state-sponsored tourism promotion in competing locales. In many of these locales, the level of oversight and transparency around budgets is virtually nill – while some of these places have dictatorial forms of government an acknowledged public interest in spending on promotion trumps the concerns about budget transparency. While excesses by Visit Florida certainly deserve some legislative oversight, it’s a fine line quite frankly.
Many policymakers in this state seem genuinely unaware of how those who compete with Florida play this game, and Governor Scott is correct to state that Visit Florida needs to remain “nimble” and have “flexibility” in how it spends its money and how it targets potential partners and visitors to this state.
The current political climate internationally and fear of travel to the United States in some quarters (or disdain for the United States among some with disposable income in Western Europe) requires an aggressive approach from Florida to court tourists who spend cash in this state. Couple in the Zika crisis and other public black eyes Florida has received (many self-inflicted it should be noted) and without spending to “keep up with the joneses,” Florida would likely fall behind in terms of attracting tourists.
Currently the “scheduled tour” industry in the United Kingdom features Florida junkets for 7, 10 or 14 days as one of its most popular packages. However in the post-Brexit world, where the British pound is already becoming a weaker currency on the international market, Florida will need to promote itself actively in the UK to continue to generate tourists. On the other hand, Brexit also might create restrictions on how easily British tourists are able to vacation on Spanish, Italian and Greek beaches (among others), giving Florida a unique opportunity to potentially capture some beach-goers who weren’t Florida-bound previously.
The dynamic nature of geopolitics and the travel/tourism industry necessitates Florida’s approach and while the legislature led by Speaker Corcoran certainly have some legislate points about Visit Florida, on the whole Governor Scott is correct about the need to give the agency enough flexibility to maintain and increase Florida’s share of the tourism industry.
The title of this article was edited after publication