By Martin Owen | Special to the Daily News
There is trouble in Tallahassee. Some lawmakers wish to defund and close Visit Florida, the state’s Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and tourism promoter. There are a large number of people who are opposed to this — to be honest, the whole of the tourism industry. I don’t wish to be political, but you know I’m unashamedly pro-tourism, and I thought you may like to know what the two sides are presenting.
In one corner is Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who feels that state tourism neither works nor is necessary. Not only is Corcoran proposing to defund Visit Florida, he’s proposing that local DMOs also be wound up. The argument is that tourists came before the state started marketing, and will continue to come regardless.
Opposing is the tourism industry — hoteliers, restaurants, theme parks, charter boat captains, attractions, guides, housekeepers, waiters and waitresses, taxi and Uber drivers — and anyone who does business with the tourism industry (in total, there are 1.4 million tourism job holders in Florida). This group believes that in the competitive tourism marketplace today (where Florida not only competes with New York, California and other states, but with the countries of the Caribbean, Europe, Australasia, the Middle East, India, Asia and South America) a public/private funding partnership is essential for continued growth and, indeed, just to maintain position.
To me, the arguments of the defunders appear to rely on either very complicated and dubious arithmetic, or extreme over simplification.
The pro side stands by publicly available facts:
• The 106.6 million visitors to Florida in 2015 came from 190 countries, but 85.7 percent are domestic (up 9.8 percent over 2014).
• Every 76 visitors support 1 tourism job.
• Visitors spent $108.8 billion resulting in $11.3 billion of state and local tax revenue.
• Florida has had five straight years of record tourism spending.
• For every $1 the state invests in Visit Florida, $3.20 in tax revenue is generated. That $1 is matched 2-to-1 by the tourism industry.
• The only reason there is no state income tax in Florida is that tourists contribute 24 percent of all sales tax.
• Without the state and local taxes generated by tourism, each Florida household would need to pay and extra $1,535 per year just to maintain the current levels of government services.
Other states have tried cutting tourism spending with frightening results.
Pennsylvania cut its budget in 2009 from $30 million to $7 million. From 2009 to 2014, Pennsylvania lost more than $600 million.
Washington cut its budget from $7 million to $0 in 2011. A competing state, Montana, grew tourists 70 percent faster.
Colorado cut its budget from $12 million to $0 in 1993 and lost $1.4 billion in traveler spending within one year. Eighteen years later, Colorado still hasn’t recovered its market share.
Conversely, California, Florida, Minnesota and New Mexico increased their budgets and increased tourism spending colossally — in the cases of California and Florida by $32.4 and $30 billion, respectively.
Defunding Visit Florida will cost jobs, income and increase tax.
For more information, please check my website at www.owenorganization.com/news.
Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to email@example.com.