Visit Florida touts a “return on investment” by taxpayers, but that hasn’t always been the case.

You can’t always get what you want — especially when you’re on a budget; it’s a lesson many of us learn early in life. When lawmakers think about spending Florida taxpayer dollars, that lesson is top of mind.

Why? Because there are many noble causes that seek funding from the state budget — education and teacher pay, nursing home workers, law enforcement, environmental protection, to name just a few. A recent Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial failed to include that point when it attacked state lawmakers for considering further cuts to Florida’s superfluous tourism marketing agency as we try to find room in the budget for priorities like the ones listed above. In the Florida House, we support responsible stewardship of Floridians’ hard-earned tax dollars.

Visit Florida touts a “return on investment” by taxpayers, but that hasn’t always been the case. Tourism numbers haven’t always correlated with Visit Florida funding levels. In 2003 and 2009, Florida spent less on marketing through Visit Florida, but tourism numbers increased.

A Visit Florida ad is not the driving factor for someone to actually visit Florida. Attractions like Disney World and Universal Studios, beaches and sunshine naturally draw tourists. In fact, research shows that most Volusia County visitors are no strangers to the area. In 2017, more than 90% were repeat visitors reporting high levels of satisfaction.

A taxpayer-funded marketing campaign might be justified in another state. Take landlocked Nebraska, for example, which literally ran ads with the phrases, “There’s nothing to do here,” and, “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” A clever ad campaign using self-deprecation and humor to draw attention to the otherwise forgettable Nebraska was a bold — and smart — move. But Florida isn’t forgettable.

If a company or local tourism board wants to advertise with their own dollars, let them. With the data we have on Visit Florida and tourism, continued funding for a coordinated agency from the state budget doesn’t sit well with me. Regardless of the News-Journal’s false narrative, if we stopped funding Visit Florida, people would not stop visiting.

>>>Related content: Editorial: State tourism industry still needs marketing support of Visit Florida

House Republicans are looking at Visit Florida once again because we firmly believe in conservative spending of taxpayers’ hard-earned money. The things that make Florida Florida — white-sand beaches, crystal-clear springs, swamps and state parks — tell their own story.

Each year, lawmakers must come up with a budget that funds the myriad priorities the third-largest state in the nation without going into debt. Because we are entrusted with allocating hard-earned taxpayer dollars, we aim to spend in the most responsible manner — prioritizing needs above nice-to-haves.

In a state with Disney World, Universal, the world’s best beaches, and dozens of cities and counties marketing themselves to tourists, a statewide marketing agency is simply that, a nice-to-have.

So stop and think about it, the many causes and concerns that request funding from the state budget — issues like teacher and first responder compensation and state agencies like health care, education, transportation, public safety, children and families, people with disabilities, and environmental protection — and weigh those against funding Visit Florida.

A responsible state budget means setting responsible priorities. What are yours?


Editor’s note: Cummings is Appropriations Committee chairman in the Florida House of Representatives. He represents state House District 18.

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