Opinion Editorial by Pat Neal and Dominic M. Calabro
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 4, 2020
Tourism is the lifeblood of Florida’s economy, central to the identity of our state, and today, more than ever before, we know that this critical industry needs an ally.
In 2017, Florida visitors contributed $85.9 billion to Florida’s economy and supported 1.5 million Florida jobs, making the tourism industry our largest economic driver.
However, we know that the economic powerhouse that is tourism in Florida cannot be taken for granted. The Florida Legislature must secure proper funding for VISIT FLORIDA and ensure future prosperity for this vital industry in our state.
With threats such as severe tropical weather, man-made disasters, and other external factors impacting Florida every day, it is VISIT FLORIDA that reminds the rest of the nation, and the world, that Florida is open for business and still the beautiful beach on a postcard so many families picture our state to be. Unfortunately, we are again seeing efforts in the Florida House of Representatives to shut down VISIT FLORIDA by arguing that, “Florida does not need to advertise itself; people already know how great and beautiful our state is.”
This shortsighted approach will hurt small businesses and lead to declines in tourism. If people know how great things are, why does Coca-Cola continue to advertise? Why do incumbent politicians feel the need to run ads? Won’t the voters that chose them last election just know to vote for them again? The answer is, of course, no. This argument is illogical and bad for Florida.
As Florida’s official tourism marketing corporation, VISIT FLORIDA serves as our ambassador to the world, leveraging public funding allocated by the Florida Legislature with matching private dollars to recruit the state’s tourism industry as partners in cooperative advertising campaigns, promotional programs, and other marketing ventures. These large-scale advertising strategies help all tourism partners, from small towns to Florida’s largest cities, be part of major campaigns that they otherwise couldn’t afford. Through the partnerships VISIT FLORIDA creates, Florida taxpayers benefit, save, and see greater returns.
According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, $2.15 in tax revenue is generated. Tourism marketing increases customer awareness; grows local economies in Florida; and, helps to promote local brands.
This is real money that would be lost if the organization were to be defunded. Without these dollars, small businesses would not have the funds they need for marketing and could very likely go out of business. Small mom-and-pop businesses make up a big part of the tourism industry and it is VISIT FLORIDA and its network of partner organizations that bring awareness of these great small businesses to those visiting our state.
Florida TaxWatch research continues to support investments in the state’s tourism industry and economic development. Trying to attract new businesses and tourists to Florida each year will continue to get more competitive and Florida cannot simply step away from the fight.
There will always be competing interests for scarce resources and tax dollars, which is why VISIT FLORIDA is going to have to demonstrate each fiscal year that they are getting the best bang for the taxpayer dollar.
Still, as the 2020 Florida Legislative Session nears its end, it is imperative that lawmakers secure proper funding for VISIT FLORIDA to support small businesses, protect millions of Florida jobs, and invest in the long-term prosperity of countless communities whose economies rely on a healthy and growing tourism industry in Florida.
Former state Sen. Pat Neal is Florida TaxWatch’s Board Chairman and CEO of Neal Communities. Neal served in both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate.
Dominic Calabro is Florida TaxWatch President and CEO. For 40 years, Florida TaxWatch has served as the trusted eyes and ears of Florida’s taxpayers, working as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog and taxpayer research institute.
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