Southwest Florida business leaders say cuts to Visit Florida could hurt them

Posted at 6:32 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 18:32:32-05

Governor Rick Scott is pushing back against what he sees as an attack by some Florida lawmakers on the state's ability to market itself as a tourist destination to the rest of the world.

On Monday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran released an amendment to a bill that could cut funding Visit Florida, the state's tourism department, by two-thirds. Visit Florida would still get about $25 million, but it's a 67% cut that businesses who rely rely on tourism say would hurt them.

"They provide a brand for Florida," said Jacki Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. "We're a part of that brand because we're a beach community, we're an island community."

Liszak and her husband own the Sea Gypsy Inn on Fort Myers Beach. She said other business owners in the beach town are concerned over the possible cuts to Visit Florida, which advertises the state as a tourist mecca to other states and countries.

"We're competing against other states for the same tourist dollars, as well as international destinations," Liszak said. "So Visit Florida allows us to represent Florida on an international level."

In addition to the funding cuts, Corcoran has said that he wants Visit Florida to have more transparency, in order to avoid situations like the one in which rapper Pitbull was paid $1 million to take part in an ad campaign which promoted the state.

Tuesday, Governor RIck Scott's office released a YouTube video slamming the the House Speaker's efforts to curb the state's marketing.

"Has anyone ever heard of Coca-Cola?" Scott asks as audience in the video. "Do you think they still market, even though we all know of them? Why do they do that? Because it works."

The video also features tourism business leaders from all over the state, saying that Visit Florida's efforts to advertise the state Florida results in more business for them.

"They constantly keep Florida in the eyes of everyone in the country and overseas," said Jeff Webb, owner of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Fort Myers. "So they think of us before they think of anywhere else to travel to."

Corcoran said he wants to end what he calls Visit Florida's history of "corporate negligence" and "insider deals." A spokeswoman for the governor said Scott has already been working on changes at Visit Florida, including a change in leadership.