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Nancy Smith

When You Cut Visit Florida ... and You Will ... Be Kind

December 24, 2016 - 6:00am
Credit: Orlando Sentinel
Credit: Orlando Sentinel

Visit Florida will emerge from the budget process next year a slimmer creature than it is today, I've resigned myself to that. But I hope it won't mean sacrificing Florida tourism's considerable muscle.

Tourist traffic is Florida's comfort food.

So, as fiscally conservative as I am naturally, I don't feel good about this new resolve to slash Visit Florida like it's a moldy apple, to economize in an area doing so much good for Floridians' No. 1 priority -- jobs and the economy. Tourism is surging and it's directly related to both.

OK, maybe concealing rapper Pitbull's contract and the cost of the Fulham (England) football sponsorship was arrogant and ill-advised. But I confess, I like the way the edgy, creative spirits at the agency think for a 21st Century market. 

So, shoot me. I don't want to see legislators with a political agenda overreacting to micromanage Visit Florida.

I Beg to DifferA lot is made of the growth of Visit Florida's budget compared to the number of tourists generated and I can see why. Its budget is up from about $29 million in 2009 to more than $78 million today -- a 169 percent increase. Meanwhile, the number of tourists in Florida during the same period has grown from about 82 million to more than 106 million -- a 29 percent increase. The difference has left the office open to criticism.

On the other hand, Visit Florida can show that for every $1 invested in tourism, Florida gets more than $3 back.

I entirely agree with Will Seccombe, the Visit Florida president just fired over the Pitbull business. Seccombe told The Tampa Bay Times, "The Florida tourism industry has done a tremendous job marketing the state both domestically and internationally during challenging times. It also shows that we will have to work even harder as a state and an industry to maintain that growth going forward." I particularly agreed with the feeling Visit Florida has even more work to do.

Already British travel agencies are booking record numbers of tourists in package deals to Cuba. Cuba is cheap, safe, the beaches are clean and the people are falling all over themselves to provide a warm welcome. Visit Florida was incubating an idea to sell internationals on combination trips to Cuba and Florida. I'm not sure what will happen to that now.

Visit Florida's critics will tell you not to worry about international tourists, that Brand USA, a national marketing campaign to attract tourists from abroad, will receive almost $93 million in the next federal budget year to do that job for us. But that won't do much for Sunshine State tourism. Brand USA has no particular allegiance to Florida. We are only one of 50 states they have to hawk to international travelers.

I have to wonder how cutting $50 million off its budget will hamstring Visit Florida, and I hope legislators will, too.

Earlier this year, after Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew did a number on Florida -- and after the Treasure Coast's green algae had blanketed national television --  the state's tourism marketing agency came up with a "four-pronged marketing plan" to let the world know Florida was back in business.

Visit Florida's "Open for Business" campaign included a series of 32 time-stamped videos along with a supporting social media campaign and customized plans to support all damaged communities. Time-stamping was the key. Everything the audience saw was in real time. It was honest and it worked. It's still working.

"Open for Business" is the sort of initiative I worry could be cut back or cut out. Certainly it would be cheaper to dump the real-time photos and just release stock shots of attractions in top condition on a sunny Florida day. But as Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County and a Visit Florida board member said in October, "You need to make sure that these are time-dated photographs and make sure that when you're saying everything is fine, it is." 

Are we going to be able to market tourism right after the new budget is done and dusted?

I understand and respect House Speaker Richard Corcoran's view of waste in government spending. But on this issue, I've been glad to see the success Visit Florida has generated getting a little respect from Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala. It says to me the Senate might put Visit Florida on a strict diet, but it won't let it fade into oblivion.

Tourists will gravitate to Florida naturally, some of them anyway. But they won't flock here as we want and need -- as we've become used to -- if we don't market the best of ourselves. In spite of our dazzling assets, we really do have a lot of competition for the tourist dollar.

To me, a Visit Florida cut is going to be like operating a business thinking you can slash the budget for advertising. I guess if you can afford to lose customers and ultimately lay off a few employees, take a chance. Go ahead.

I know the cut is coming. I'm just hoping legislators won't come at it with crazy eyes and a knife between their teeth.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

"Retired" MUST be on the Board of "Visit Florida"... That's the ONLY reason that might account for such convoluted thinking... (and espousing it publically as well..)

"..package deals to Cuba.." THAT'S what Florida needs?!?!?...Are you kidding me????? And some "twit" actually compares Colorado to Florida???... Well, now Florida has "medical" marijuana too (soon to be the "real thing", just like Colorado...but without Colorado's beaches..tsk..tsk..). So,...who needs "Visit Florida" to waste our taxpayer money on hypotheticals?!?!?

You are right on point, Nancy. Having served as CEO of a business association and two insurance companies for many years, I always told our people to "go out there and do things you think are the right things to do and if some don't work don't worry about it.................just go on to the next program"!!!! Not everything we did worked, but our people were not afraid to try things because they were afraid they would "get fired".....................we came out way ahead because our people knew we had their backs and they worked much harder and were much more successful because "they knew their back was covered" all the way to the top!!!! I have little knowledge of what it takes to successfully promote tourism, but listening to people who have done this successfully for their entire careers, Will Seccombe as the President of Visit Florida drew nothing but accolades. If the return on investment was $3 for every $1 invested, I'd call that a successful program. I agree it certainly wasn't smart to sign a contract that violates Florida's open government laws and then refuse to provide the contract to the Speaker. But, should a successful program and a successful leader be "terminated" because of "one decision" that in the opinion of "the elected" was wrong. I have been told by tourism experts that the "program is a winner" and that "Seccombe was a winner". So, why is there talk of cutting the program back and why terminate Seccombe because of what is viewed as "one mistake" by "the elected". If I had run our companies like this over almost 40 years, we would have failed. By permitting our people to "make honest mistakes when they were well intentioned without fear of being fired" made our company successful beyond our expectations. Tourism is still the #1 industry in Florida...................is the termination of Seccombe a "positive or negative" for the tourism industry? This should be the only question. Has that question been asked? Seccombe will no doubt end up running a tourism program for a state competing with Florida because of the success he brought here. And, who is going to apply for the job here when they understand the circumstances of Seccombe's termination. Is Florida "shooting itself in the foot"? Is it too late for the key parties to meet with Seccombe and ask him to stay on??????

Dear Retired....That was a lot of words to say that the whole think is a fraud, a charade, a sham, a smoke and mirrors political boondoggle. Just who decided that Florida got back $3 for every dollar spent? Give me a name. Horse manure has more value to Florida than this program. We can use horse manure on the garden to grow produce. Hell, why don't you just invite all the Syrian refugees over? In the last days of his term Obama would award then all houses and a lifetime annuity whilst they plan our destruction. The program is a sick, expensive farce.

And Obama might even get another unearned and undeserved "Nobel Peace Prize" for helping Syrians invade Florida... (Thank God we will now have a manly-man for President on January 20th !)

Oh, I suspect people and business would come to Florida without incentives. A political riff, one more way to drag money out of taxpayers that receive NOTHING for it. As far as the horse hockey that for every tax dollar they piss away Florida gets back $3.....I don't buy it. Mostly the executives and friends of the politically connected get the money. While figgers don't lie....liars certainly figger. This nonsense is a perfect example.

Do look back to the 90's when Colorado eliminated its tourism office. Beautiful mountains, great skiing and a statehouse populated by those who were of the opinion that the natural beauty was all that was needed to organically promote the state. Guess what. Tourism revenue plummeted. Utah, Wyoming and British Columbia were the beneficiaries of that ill conceived thought process from which the State has only recently recovered. I am not a Floridian but I am a fan of Florida. That said, there are so many competitive destinations. And with the strength of the dollar, many of the domestic visitors on which you count can consider any number of other, less expensive destinations. A dollar now buys 70% more Mexican pesos than it did three years ago. Hello Cancun!

Sarah You forgot to include your #notmypresident hashtag.

I throughly enjoyed reading Rick Scotts propaganda news paper. I have figured out that he owns this news company. Thanks Nancy for confirming it through your news slant and bias in the topics you write.

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