In an attempt to bring tourists back to the Sunshine State, Visit Florida asks for $75 million

Visit Florida Postcard – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Callahan

Florida’s tourism and marketing agency will ask lawmakers to extend its life and maintain increased funding as the state increases efforts to attract international visitors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairman Danny Gaekwad of Visit Florida told members of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors on Wednesday that the agency will request a minimum of $75 million for tourism marketing during the upcoming legislative session and will ask for an extended Oct. 1, 2023 “sunset” date for the agency. Gaekwad, owner of MGM Hotels, LLC, serves on the boards of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

“It is time to get a meaningful reauthorization so we can focus on the important work we need to do,” Gaekwad said during an Enterprise Florida meeting at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.

The 2022 legislative session begins on Jan. 11.

The current fiscal year began on July 1, and lawmakers approved $50 million in state money for tourism marketing, which is the same as in fiscal year 2020-2021. An additional $25 million came through federal stimulus programs.

Gaekwad stated that the upcoming 2022-2023 fiscal year would allow the agency to continue the “momentum they have created” in bringing back to life the state’s tourism numbers after the industry sustained an extremely heavy loss early on in the pandemic. 

The sunset date comes after 2020 lawmakers decided to extend the authorization for Visit Florida through Oct. 1, 2023. The agency would have been eliminated without that specific extension.

However, Visit Florida has been a target of House leaders in recent times. They have drawn fire for spending big in the past including $1 million for rapper Pitbull to market the state as a whole, $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by famous celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and sponsorship deals with an IMSA racing team and London-based Fulham Football Club. 

House leaders have made the argument that the state of Florida does not need to spend tax dollars on marketing a state full of tourist attractions already.

Backers of the agency responded by arguing that they have helped market the state through times of very negative media coverage regarding issues such as red tide and algae, hurricanes, and diseases including COVID-19 and Zika.

Under the plan, non-citizens who visit the United States will have to have a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure and show proof of vaccination.

Similar travel restrictions have been lifted by several European officials.

Officials from Visit Florida have been planning trips to England and Mexico, with the timing dependent on the status of requirements for United Kingdom border-crossing.

“Those trips are to further cement our existing relationships with our in-country trade and to build on some new strategic relationships with airlines and other trade partnerships in those countries,” Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young told members of the Visit Florida board’s Executive Committee in May.

“We are 12 months ahead of anybody else in the world,” Gaekwad said of the state’s travel efforts.

Just this year, Florida has seen a restoration of its domestic tourism numbers but its international figures continue to dwindle.

“An estimated 15,000 Canadian visitors and 1.115 million overseas travelers came to Florida in the second quarter of 2021. Two years ago, Florida drew 930,000 Canadians and 2.646 million overseas travelers in the second quarter.”

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