Christina Johnson

Florida, a top tourist destination, is also home to some of the finest hospitality businesses in the world. 

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) is proud to represent this vital industry. Recently, our board of directors met to assemble a comprehensive list of policy issues that we believe is critical to the furtherance of a pro-family and pro-business tourism and hospitality environment for the state. 

Three issues we want to make Floridians aware of are online travel companies (OTCs), immigration and gambling casinos. We expect the Legislature to debate these measures, and the outcome of such legislation will have a direct impact on the economic viability of our state. 

Economists predict we will face a revenue shortfall between $1.3 billion and $1.7 billion this session. With a stalled economy, reductions in spending and cuts to current government programs are inevitable. Identifying new funding sources will be a difficult task for our elected officials and one that the FRLA believes should be founded solidly on proven and sensible actions supporting a pro-growth agenda. 

* Online travel companies: Over the past three years, one topic that has drawn heated debate is the issue of online travel companies (OTCs). During the 2011 legislative session, a measure was discussed that would have created a special tax advantage for out-of-state OTCs such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. The bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate, would have deprived Florida of more than $20 million in tax revenue annually, according to the Florida Association of Counties. The FRLA firmly believes that all companies doing business in Florida should pay their fair share of taxes. Our state policies should not put hard-working Florida companies at a disadvantage. 

* Immigration: The issue of immigration brings out passionate and heated discussion. However, emotion-based action certainly could have serious unintended consequences. 

Many states believe that our nation’s immigration policy must be revamped. In light of federal inaction, many states are implementing their own immigration policies. 

Some would have Florida adopt the sweeping and controversial policies that mirror other states such as Arizona, Alabama or Georgia. However, Florida is not like other states. Consider that approximately 14 percent of Florida’s 82.3 million visitors came from outside of the United States. Florida could risk losing its world-renowned convention business as disenfranchised people choose “friendlier” destinations. 

Furthermore, every state that has passed an immigration law has found itself in federal court defending it. The costly litigation does nothing to solve the real problems we are facing.

We believe that working with the federal government on a national solution is the best approach to the problem. It also helps ensure that the largest employing industry, providing more than 1 million jobs in Florida, can continue to provide work and services. 

* Destination casino resorts: With legislators looking for budget solutions in these hard economic times, another topic that is heating up is destination casino resorts. A rose by any other name is still a rose — and this rose is surrounded by thorns. Whether it is called destination resorts by proponents or casino hotels by opponents, it still boils down to one incendiary issue — gambling. 

This spring, a destination casino resort bill died in committee. FRLA is expecting a similar bill to be introduced by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-West Palm Beach, and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami. The measure would permit at a minimum three gambling establishments to be constructed, rumored to house the largest casinos in the world. 

Florida is considered one of the most family-friendly destination locations in the world. Should we trade in the family-friendly beaches and theme parks for gambling? Should we gamble our decades of work to build our wholesome reputation on the risky proposition that big-spending foreign gamblers will solve our economic problems? The answer is an overwhelming no. 

Florida can learn the opportunity cost of the casino hotels from other states, from the spinoff troubles of gambling to the family to the demonstrated increases in crime, and reject this option. Any benefit to Florida will never outweigh the heavy cost.

Carol B. Dover serves as President/CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, whose mission is to protect, educate and promote the state’s largest hospitality member industry.

*My View article appearing in the Tallahassee Democrat, October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011

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