Visit Florida seeks post-pandemic budget boost

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, is hoping lawmakers will boost its funding to help offset the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

The request is going to be a hard sell with state revenues down and a House Speaker highly critical of the agency’s effectiveness.

Visit Florida received $50 million from the legislature for the upcoming fiscal year, largely due to fears the pandemic could wreak havoc on the tourism industry.

It did.

Hotel revenues alone are down $3.8 billion since March 1.

“Orlando, when I was down there, was a ghost town, which was frightening,” said Carol Dover, President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Dover is also a Visit Florida board member.

She said $50 million for marketing the state simply isn’t enough.

“I mean a $50 million budget even in a good year is lean,” said Dover.

She hopes when the legislature returns, whether in a special session or next year, funding for Visit Florida will be raised to $100 million.

But the proposition will be a hard sell in the Florida House.

Current House Speaker Jose Oliva has been no friend to the agency and would have likely killed it during the 2020 session if not for the pandemic.

But House Budget Chair Travis Cummings believes the incoming House Speaker may see things differently.

“He comes from the Tampa region, so to speak, and St. Pete where tourism is obviously critical,” said Cummings.

We asked Speaker Designate Chris Sprowls for his take on Visit Florida spending.

He responded, “It’s too early to speculate on the next budget cycle while we wait for the ultimate outcome on this budget.”

But, Dover points out, other states are already boosting their marketing agencies.

She fears if Florida doesn’t do the same, it will be at a competitive disadvantage.

“We have a lot to advertise, but we have got to do it and do it in a manner that makes customers feel safe,” said Dover.

And with the state making national headlines for record daily COVID-19 case numbers, indications are things may get worse for the tourism industry before they get better.

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