Florida pioneers did not simply plant their flags and sit back. They worked mightily to market Florida as a paradise for fortune-seekers, sun-seekers and family vacations. Without marketing, their projects would have quickly failed.

Bedecked in a broad-brimmed hat, Chris Pawlak proudly pilots Buccaneer Britt, the newest addition to the Pirate Water Taxi fleet, up and down Tampa’s Hillsborough River, shuttling visitors to activities along the Tampa Riverwalk. More than 23.6 million convention-goers, sports fans, and vacationing families keep him busy. They’ve also inspired a major expansion of the taxi fleet.

The tide of tourism is rising in Hillsborough County thanks to the dedicated work of Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Florida. As a result, Hillsborough County’s economy is booming with unprecedented numbers of new restaurants, hotels, and events – and the 53,000 jobs that come with them

Recently, Florida Speaker of the House Jos Oliva declared Visit Florida a waste of money, arguing that the success of Ponce de Leon, Henry Flagler, and Walt Disney prove Florida is such a self-evident tourism destination it need not market itself to visitors. “If you build it,” Oliva said, quoting the most famous line from the film “Field of Dreams,” “he will come.”

Respectfully, Speaker Oliva is dead wrong.

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

Florida pioneers did not simply plant their flags and sit back. They worked mightily to market Florida as a paradise for fortune-seekers, sun-seekers and family vacations. Without marketing, their projects would have quickly failed.

Over the last decade, innovative and aggressive tourism marketing by Visit Florida accelerated the state’s recovery from the Great Recession and fueled a decade of tremendous growth. The $30 million investment the Speaker belittles has a massive economic impact — nearly $86 billion, including more than $6 billion a year in Hillsborough County.

Every marketing dollar brings a $2-for-1 return in tax revenue. Marketing the state through Visit Florida literally doubles our money. Working with Visit Florida in Europe and Canada, Visit Tampa Bay has produced hundreds of millions in state and local taxes – saving each local household more than $800 a year in the process.

The thousands of dollars visitors spend in the state every day keep more than 1.5 million Floridians working and their families on good financial footing. Those workers buy groceries, gasoline, and school supplies, creating ripples that reach every corner of our economy.

As Oliva notes, nearly every Florida county collects tourist development revenues. In rare cases, they may exceed Visit Florida’s own budget. But the Speaker’s implied strategy of effectively pitting Florida destinations against each other for domestic and international visitors would be a disaster. As the state’s destination marketing organization, Visit Florida presents a united message that cuts through the clutter. Its collaborative model provides invaluable support to all 67 counties. The result is higher employment, greater wage growth and a rising economic tide statewide.

International visitors are a key tourism component. They stay longer and spend more than domestic travelers. But they also have an entire world of choices for where to spend their money. Internationally, a Sunshine State vacation is far from self-evident. To succeed, we must remain top-of-mind. The Speaker’s drive to defund Visit Florida takes us off the board as competition gets tougher. Rather than continue to build Florida tourism’s “Field of Dreams,” the Speaker would plow it under along with tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic benefit.

We already see the results of the Florida Legislature’s meddling in Visit Florida as visitor growth slows. Visit Florida’s forced retrenchment is shrinking budgets, cutting skilled staff and causing our message to falter. As tourism slows, the impact inevitably falls hardest on workers in hospitality — the people who keep the state’s economy humming 24/7. Like Chris Pawlak, every one of them feeds their family, pays their rent, and takes their own vacation thanks to savvy marketing by Visit Florida.

The Speaker says funding Visit Florida is a waste of money. I believe, it’s an even bigger waste not to.

TROY M. MANTHEY, TAMPA

Editor’s note: Manthey is chair of Visit Tampa Bay, and president and CEO of Yacht Starship and Prate Water Taxi.



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