Back from the brink, Visit Florida got a temporary lease on life after House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to put $50 million toward the public-private agency next year, extending it until June 30, 2020. The state's tourism marketing agency had been set to expire on October 1st and many legislators along with House Speaker Jose Oliva appeared to be content with letting it sunset.
However, in the midst of last-minute budget talks, lawmakers say they agreed with a request from Governor Ron DeSantis to keep Visit Florida active for at least another year, so that he and his administration can assess it for themselves. DeSantis, who took office in January, included $76 million for Visit Florida in his budget proposal. Until last week, the Florida Senate seemed determined to provide funding for the agency at a number of at least $50 million, but following budget negotiations with House members earlier in April, that number was suddenly zeroed out.
With the growing possibility that the 23-year-old agency would be allowed to sunset, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce made a strong push in sending a message to Tallahassee to fully fund Visit Florida with at least $76 million. Many Chamber members heeded a call to action, emailing and tagging lawmakers on social media, urging them to keep the marketing agency alive.
"Visit Florida is not only boosting the hospitality and tourism industry in our state," said Dan Lindblade, President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. "It's a marketing arm that helps support hundreds of thousands of jobs in an array of industries that depend on visitors making their way to the Sunshine State each year."
According to Visit Florida, it has more than 13,000 business partners and the Florida Legislature's Chief Economist says the agency returns $2.15 back to taxpayers for every dollar invested.
While advocates of the agency can breathe easier right now, it will leave supporters, with the Chamber included, calling on lawmakers to fund the agency for a much longer period of time when they meet next January.
*Sources: Visit Florida & Orlando Sentinel