Tourism plays a major role in Florida’s economic strength. Last year, more than 112 million tourists visited Florida and spent an estimated $113 billion. This spending supports as many as 1.4 million Florida jobs, and generated $8.0 billion in state and local tax revenue in 2016. Without the state and local taxes generated by tourism, each Florida household would have to pay as much as $1,535 in additional taxes just to maintain the current level of government services.
The Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation, operating under the name VISIT FLORIDA, is the state’s destination marketing organization. A public-private economic development partnership, VISIT FLORIDA and its 12,000 tourism industry partners engage in cooperative advertising campaigns, promotional programs and many other cooperative ventures.
Recently, VISIT FLORIDA has come under fire from members of the Florida Legislature. Some legislators maintain that VISIT FLORIDA spending has little demonstrated effect on tourism, and that visitors will come to Florida with or without VISIT FLORIDA. Other legislators question the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding VISIT FLORIDA’s business operations. Legislation has been proposed during the 2017 legislative session that, if passed, will limit VISIT FLORIDA’s legislative appropriation to $25 million and impose more stringent transparency and accountability requirements.
Global tourism is an increasingly competitive market. To maintain its share of the tourism market, Florida must compete for visitors against other states, primarily California and Texas. Like Florida, California and Texas offer visitors spectacular landscapes and natural beauty, ethnically and culturally diverse cities, theme parks and attractions, sports and recreational opportunities, supportive infrastructure, and climates that are conducive to year-round visitation.
Florida’s large theme parks and attractions will continue to advertise and market to out-of-state visitors with or without VISIT FLORIDA. It is the thousands of small tourist-dependent businesses that will get lost in the shuffle without the leadership of VISIT FLORIDA. This is why it is important for VISIT FLORIDA to provide strong leadership to keep Florida’s tourism industry competitive and sustainable. VISIT FLORIDA leverages its resources through cooperative marketing programs that add value for its 12,000 business partners. is allows VISIT FLORIDA’s business partners to gain access to promotions on a scale not otherwise possible.
One only needs to look at the experience of other states that have reduced or eliminated their tourism marketing efforts to understand what will happen if VISIT FLORIDA is eliminated. States like Colorado and Washington that have drastically cut or eliminated their investment in travel promotion have experienced immediate and long-term negative economic impacts. Destinations that fail to invest consistently in travel promotion will see visitors, jobs, and tax revenues go elsewhere. Should Florida choose to follow suit, tourism and the economic activity and taxes it generates will certainly decline.
Florida TaxWatch research shows that continuous, targeted investment into Florida’s tourism industry is critical to our state’s success. While diversifying the economy is important, tourism will remain a key component of Florida’s economic strength. The Legislature must continue to fund tourism marketing and promotion at its current level and move Florida forward.