Rick Scott keeps up pressure to boost funding for Visit Florida

click to enlarge Rick Scott keeps up pressure to boost funding for Visit Florida
Photo by Joey Roulette
Gov. Rick Scott and the state tourism-marketing agency continue to push lawmakers to boost marketing dollars to $100 million next year, a figure well above what the House and Senate have budgeted for Visit Florida.

The agency is receiving $76 million this year. But Scott links his proposed increase to $100 million with attracting more tourists, which he correlates to more employment opportunities in the service-industry rich state.

Scott also said the additional funding would provide more of a buffer if the state is hit by another hurricane such as Irma, which clobbered the state in September.

“We just went through a devastating hurricane season. We’ve got to continue to market our state,” Scott told reporters Tuesday while in Jacksonville.

“I’m working through the House and Senate to make that sure we get to $100 million for Visit Florida, so we get more jobs in the state,” he continued.

The state has seen annual visitor counts grow from 87.3 million in 2011 to more than 112 million last year, an increase that funding proponents attributed to lawmakers boosting Visit Florida money from $35 million in 2011 to $76 million.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O' Lakes Republican who has challenged past spending by the tourism agency, has argued that people are driven to travel more by their personal finances than by state marketing.

The House and Senate are expected Thursday to approve budget proposals, setting the stage for negotiations in the coming weeks on a final spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The Senate has penciled in $50 million for tourism marketing in its budget proposal, and the House would keep funding in 2018-2019 at $76 million.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is chairman of the Senate Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said Wednesday that Scott’s request is “on the table.”

“I’m certain it will have more discussion in the coming weeks,” Simpson said. “Until we get to the conferencing (budget negotiations), it can still be changed”

Scott’s comments came as Visit Florida sent out an email pointing to data from Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research, which tracks the global hotel industry. Visit Florida contends the data show that Florida’s record visitation and spending is in part responsible for an hotel construction boom. The research projects there will be an 8.1 percent increase in hotels and 10.9 percent increase in rooms by 2020.

“Florida’s hotels represent the number one spending source for visitors to our state, and today’s numbers from STR (Smith Travel Research) show investment in our state’s tourism industry is booming,’’ Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson said in a prepared statement.

Lawson added that the $100 million will “match the huge investments in our hotel industry, create more jobs, and make Florida the number one global destination.”

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