Visit Florida’s Future in Doubt – Again

In what is becoming the Florida Legislature’s annual rite of spring, Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, is again under fire from lawmakers.

House Bill 7053, introduced last month, would dramatically change the way tourism development efforts are funded in the Sunshine State. As it stands now, the legislation would require large counties to submit 5% of their tourist development tax collections to the state while rural counties would remit 2% of collections.

Tourist development taxes, also known as “bed taxes,” apply to rental charges or room rates paid for the right to use or occupy living quarters or sleeping or housekeeping accommodations for rental periods six months or less, according to the Florida Department of Revenue.

The money collected by the state would then be redistributed by Visit Florida, with 75% of the funds going to rural counties, state parks and state forests.

Tourism offices and destination marketing organizations across the state have raised concerns about the legislation as leisure travel continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think it goes without saying we are extremely concerned,” said Susan Phillips, president and CEO of the St. Johns County Visitors and Convention Bureau. “This is something we are adamantly opposed to. There is no reason for it. It’s killing the goose that has the golden egg.”

Phillips said Visit Florida is an important piece of the state’s overall tourism efforts.

“Our state is run on tourism, and it doesn’t happen by happenstance,” she said. “You have to market that and there’s a lot of competition out there.”

Phillips said she has been in touch with tourism industry colleagues and has heard similar sentiments, with many working to voice their opposition to the bill.

“We are having active conversations with folks in Tallahassee to let them know our opposition,” she said. As far as advance planning if the bill becomes law, Phillips said it is hard to make contingency plans as “these things change day to day.”

Phillips said she is optimistic that Visit Florida may yet survive.

“I think the good news out of it all is you have to pay attention to the signals,” she said. “We feel cooler heads will prevail.”

Visit Florida has faced fire from lawmakers before, including the aftermath of a $1 million promotional deal the agency inked with entertainer Pitbull to promote the state.

Phillips said she expects some “give and take” on the bill as the legislative session continues.

“As Americans we have to compromise,” she said. “We are cautiously optimistic about it.”