Visit Florida Lives to Promote Another Day

After another winter of legislative discontent made glorious summer travel season by a budgetary reprieve, Visit Florida is still in business. While not quite what the Bard of Avon had in mind in the opening monologue of “Richard III,” it is an apt metaphor for the Shakesperean journey of the state’s tourism development arm.

The state legislature is chock full of routines and traditions, and putting Visit Florida on the budgetary chopping block has become nearly as common as the dropping-the-handkerchief ceremony that marks the end of the annual session. But unlike the charmingly anachronistic way the state closes official legislative business, continuing threats to its tourism development arm could have serious consequences.

For now, Visit Florida is safe. Budget negotiators agreed to provide $80 million for the agency in the next fiscal year, an increase of $30 million from the current year. The Senate had sought $80 million, while the House did not initially propose money for Visit Florida.

While is a good thing for local tourism development boards and the state’s bottom line – not to mention the thousands of residents whose jobs are directly related to tourism – the annual struggle for Visit Florida’s survival tarnishes the state’s business-friendly reputation.

Beyond the assistance Visit Florida provides to local tourist development councils and destinations, as well as the marketing and promotional efforts the agency undertakes in a crowded travel marketplace, the mere existence of an official agency devoted to one of the state’s top industries sends a message of cooperation and economic stability beyond the tourism sector. And when Visit Florida’s future is imperiled, it sends a message of instability and volatility in the business landscape of the state.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, businesses hate unpredictability. That includes businesses looking to expand or relocate to the Sunshine State – even if they are not seeking state and local incentives.

Being able to count on a public/private partnership when making a major investment in new facilities, equipment or workforce is a necessity for a company, even if the nature of the partnership is simply one of good corporate and public citizens.

When things are unpredictable, businesses are likely to look beyond Florida’s white sandy beaches and nice weather when making decisions about new locations or expanded operations.

Threatening Visit Florida’s funding on a regular basis shows a lack of commitment to forging industry partnerships and is not a way to win friends and influence businesspeople. With fierce competition from other states and regions for economic development growth even the perception of potential public difficulties is problematic.

It would be better for all concerned if Visit Florida got just a little bit of breathing space, and calls for its demise became little more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.