Visit Florida funding fight: An update and key takeaways for hotel owners

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By Chip Rogers, AAHOA President & CEO

In the May edition of Today’s Hotelier, Brian Kaissi wrote for the government affairs column about the “tweet that tanked tourism.” Popular Miami rapper Pitbull unwittingly launched Visit Florida, the Sunshine State’s tourism promotion entity, into controversy by tweeting about his $1 million contract with them.

The fallout of the tweet was immense. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, called for the resignation of Visit Florida’s CEO Will Seccombe, who acquiesced under pressure, along with the chief operating officer and chief marketing officer. Worse for the state’s tourism industry, powerful Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran vowed to slash funding for Visit Florida in the next state budget.

What happened next was a political fight for the ages, with Republican officials squaring off against each other and groups with a stake in the result, like hotel owners, amusement parks, restaurants and many other businesses that rely on tourism, urging peace and a compromise that keeps tourism number one in Florida.

Today, we can relay good news to Florida hotel owners. Gov. Scott, Speaker Corcoran and Republican Senate President Joe Negron did in fact reach a compromise that funds Visit Florida at $76 million for fiscal year 2018, the same as 2017. Though lower than the $100 million Gov. Scott had initially proposed, the deal keeps tourism flowing in Florida – and guests at hotels and customers at the many other businesses that rely on it.

The entire saga can be a lesson to other states, however, and I urge you to take it to your local state lawmakers. First, states shouldn’t ink million-dollar deals with celebrities. And they definitely shouldn’t hide it from the public only to have the celebrity in question tweet it out later. But that one might be a given now.

Second, and more importantly, promoting tourism is the lifeblood of many states’ economies, often bringing in several times over the initial investment. Those are more than just numbers; that means jobs and success for many people in the state.

Third, as our May article recounted, advocacy makes a difference. AAHOA members alone sent more than 1,000 letters to state lawmakers opposing the deep cuts proposed by Speaker Corcoran. And he listened.

Fourth, we may have some differences in priorities, but we as hotel owners need to build bridges with all of the industries that rely on tourism and act as one voice when the industry comes under attack. Fortunately, that’s what happened in Florida and, together, we made the case for fully funding Visit Florida despite the missteps the organization made.

Visit Florida won’t be making the same mistake again anytime soon, but we’d do well to heed the lessons the whole story relays to us rather than make the mistake of disengaging. You never know when a tweet will threaten to tank your state’s entire tourism economy.

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