Rick Scott touts record 2017 tourism as he considers veto of Florida budget

Redacción Agencias | 5/16/2017, 7:25 a.m.
Rick Scott touts record 2017 tourism as he considers veto of Florida budget
El gobernador Rick Scott | Foto Cortesía

Gov. Rick Scott touted Florida’s tourism virtues at a press conference Monday morning in Miami as he considers vetoing a dramatic cut to the state’s tourism marketing arm, Visit Florida.

The state legislature approved an $82.4 billion budget last week that calls for slashing Visit Florida’s funding by 67 percent, from $78 million to $25 million. The new figure is less than the budget for the tourism marketing entities in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, which have budgets of $29.3 million and $27 million, respectively.

Scott, who has strongly supported increasing funding for Visit Florida to as much as $100 million, spoke out against the budget cuts while highlighting another record tourism figure in Florida. During the first three months of 2017, 31.1 million people visited the state, Scott said at a press conference at Jungle Island. The record figure was a 2.5 percent bump over the same time in 2016.

“This is not the time to take our foot off the gas,” said Scott, how added that 2016 was another record-breaking year for Florida with 113 million visitors.

The industry employs 1.4 million people in the state, meaning one in six Florida jobs are tied to tourism, he said.

“Our Florida legislature is being very short-sighted,” Scott said, pointing to similar efforts in Colorado and Pennsylvania to cut back on tourism marketing that led to steep declines in tourism revenue.

But opponents argue that Visit Florida has spent its money loosely, notably coming under fire for a $1 million promotion deal with Pitbull. The corporation is supposed to be an equal public-private partnership, but 86 percent of its budget is covered by taxpayers, according to its financial summaries released via public records requests.

Most recently, Visit Florida’s spending was questioned again after the Naples Daily News reported that Visit Florida signed a contract in March to market the state to Syria — one of the countries that president Donald Trump included in a list of countries part of a temporary travel ban. Visit Florida canceled the contract after the Naples Daily News questioned it about it.

Scott called the Syria contract a “clerical error” Monday and later said he is in favor of more transparency, but not cutting funding to the corporation, which is responsible for touting Florida around the world as a travel destination.

“We are getting $3.20 back for every dollar we are spending [on Visit Florida marketing],” Scott said. “We’ve got to play to our strengths. What are our strengths? Tourism is our strength. Ports are our strengths. So we’ve got to play to those to get more jobs.”

Florida Senator Jack Latvala, R-Pinellas, said at the event Monday that he “wasn’t happy” with the legislature’s decision to cut Visit Florida funds.

“I’ve spent my life in the business world and owning my own business and I know when you stop advertising, when you stop marketing, you start dying,” Latvala said. “I’m hopeful that the governor will call us back to Tallahassee and make us finish the job.”

But Scott, who has hinted that he may veto the budget, said he is still looking at all of his options. Those include vetoing a portion of the budget, calling a special legislative session and vetoing the entire budget, which hasn’t happened in 25 years.

Asked if Scott should veto the budget’s item regarding Visit Florida, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau president William D. Talbert, III, said “absolutely.”

“Why would you curtail a successful program?” Talbert said.