Visit Florida has posted its third quarter tourism numbers, and some in the industry are calling a slowdown in visitor growth “jarring.” The state tourism agency says 31.6 million people visited the state between July and September – 28.6 million were coming from other states, 2.6 million from overseas and just under a half million from Canada.
Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO Carol Dover says the 1.2 percent growth rate in overall visitors is the lowest since the second quarter of 2010.
“We just hope that we can get the legislature to understand – time and time and time again we have proven that the amount of money that Visit Florida pumps into marketing has a direct correlation to the number of visitors we have,” Dover told media on a call with other tourism industry stakeholders Wednesday.
Visit Florida fought for its life during the last legislative session, against threats to pull its funding altogether and sunset the agency. Ultimately, it was funded with $50 million through the summer of 2020.
Governor Ron DeSantis in his proposed budget wants to keep the agency funded at $50 million for the next fiscal year.
The Senate is pushing to keep Visit Florida operating for the next eight years, but House leaders are skeptical.
Meanwhile, as Visit Florida tries to work with less money, Dover says the cuts have caused the state to lose out on sales tax revenue.
“1.6 million visitors that didn’t come into our state dropped our sales tax down $41.7 million,” Dover said.
Dover is taking that estimate from the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
Visit Florida still gets 15 percent of Florida’s rental car surcharge as part of its funding – a practice that’s been in place for decades. Yet, that funding mechanism isn’t bringing in as much as it used to. Dover would like to see a more stable funding source for the agency.
“Of course, you can imagine with Uber and all of the things that have happened, a lot of things have changed in that market and the funding is not as high as it used to be. But in a perfect world, yes, we would have a dedicated funding source – but that hasn’t happened,” Dover said, adding she remembers when Visit Florida was formerly the state Department of Commerce.
“We’re one of the states that doesn’t have a department of commerce, because it is a quasi-public-private partnership agency called Visit Florida – and it needs to be properly funded by the Legislature, whether they deem a designated funding or out of general revenue. They certainly generate enough general revenue to give them full funding of $76 million to $100 million, and that’s what we should get back to.”