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Redoubled tourism emphasis encourages Charlotte, Lee

By Staff | Dec 30, 2010

Florida will more than double its state tourism marketing budget under a proposal sent to Gov.-elect Rick Scott last week by his transition team.
The 109-page economic development proposal calls for earmarking $62.5 million for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, which would more than double the $29.4 million the state now spends to promote its beaches, attractions and leisure lifestyle to potential visitors.
The news was a welcome gift for Charlotte and Lee tourism officials right before Christmas.
“The Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau is happy to see tourism is a priority with Gov.-elect Rick Scott and that he understands the economic impact tourism has on the state of Florida,” said Jennifer Huber, Charlotte County tourism public relations manager. “We are optimistic his proposal of more than doubling funding to Visit Florida will pass, which means the state will be able to aggressively market the destination, attract more visitors and create jobs for Floridians. More visitors to Florida will mean more visitors to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf islands and more employed Charlotte County residents.”
Lynda Lancaster of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce pointed out the uncertainty of how the money will be budgeted and whether the recommendations from the transition team will even be adopted. Even if it happens, she said it’s unlikely to help Boca Grande much — if any.
“All of that aside, it’s a good start, and doubling funding to amplify our state’s largest industry certainly makes sense,” said Lancaster in an e-mailed statement. “It is highly unlikely that Boca Grande Chamber will benefit directly from any additional state tourism monies, but most certainly it would be beneficial to our area overall.”
Private industry has been outspending the state by more than two-to-one on marketing since 1996, a ratio the Scott team said needs to be changed.
Scott said the state should be spending a dollar for every one the private sector spends to help boost the state’s signature industry, which is still reeling from recession and a summer oil spill that crippled the Panhandle region and cast a pall over the entire state.
The transition team’s stated goal is making Florida the No. 1 tourism destination in the country. Florida now ranks fifth nationally in tourism office spending, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The proposal would boost the state’s rank to second behind only Hawaii. If matching funds are secured, the combined marketing power would top the public spending of France, Spain or Australia.
The expanded effort would translate into 35,500 additional jobs a year and $3.6 billion in additional direct spending, the report estimates.
The plan represents the first detailed glimpse of Scott’s tourism agenda, though Scott has cautioned transition team memos are merely suggestions — not necessarily the exact route the new governor will take when he gets to work Jan. 4.
The tourism stimulus proposal follows a dismal summer season that brought northwest Florida to its knees. Since soon after the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, hotel and lodging officials have been clamoring for a coordinated state effort to save what they could of the summer season.
Those officials are now worried that visitors went elsewhere in 2010 will not return in 2011, a scenario they fear could come about if the state doesn’t spend the money needed to lure tourists back.
“What keeps me awake at night in regard to Northwest Florida is all those people who went to Myrtle Beach last year instead of going to Destin or Panama City Beach or Pensacola,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Did they find something there that they enjoyed so they are going to try it one more year?”