This article appeared in The Northwest Florida Daily News Talking Tourism Column on Sunday, February 26.
There is trouble in Tallahassee. Some lawmakers wish to defund and close Visit Florida, the state’s Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and tourism promoter. There are a large number of people who are opposed to this — to be honest, the whole of the tourism industry. I don’t wish to be political, but you know I’m unashamedly pro-tourism, and I thought you may like to know what the two sides are presenting.
In one corner is Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who feels that state tourism neither works nor is necessary. Not only is Corcoran proposing to defund Visit Florida, he’s proposing that local DMOs also be wound up. The argument is that tourists came before the state started marketing, and will continue to come regardless.
Opposing is the tourism industry — hoteliers, restaurants, theme parks, charter boat captains, attractions, guides, housekeepers, waiters and waitresses, taxi and Uber drivers — and anyone who does business with the tourism industry (in total, there are 1.4 million tourism job holders in Florida). This group believes that in the competitive tourism marketplace today (where Florida not only competes with New York, California and other states, but with the countries of the Caribbean, Europe, Australasia, the Middle East, India, Asia and South America) a public/private funding partnership is essential for continued growth and, indeed, just to maintain position.
We just spent a long weekend in New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities. It’s totally unique. I was first introduced to NOLA in 1972 as a young travel agent on a U.S. tour (seven cities in 10 days!). Being taken to Bourbon Street as a 20-year-old was quite an eye-opener. Luckily my wife lived in New Orleans for quite awhile and really is “local,” so we’re not exactly tourists when we visit at least four times a year.
The city is a real case study for tourism, joining an historic center with a mix of cultures plus being a living, thriving business hub. It has nearly year-round tourism, although the local businesses are only too aware when they have fewer tourists. The Crescent City is known world over for Mardi Gras (or Carnival, as the locals term it) which is both a blessing and a curse as it attracts enormous numbers of tourists. Those tourists tend to consider partying an Olympic sport, which adds a whole new level to tourist management. Natural events like Hurricane Katrina also have put an added strain on the city, and its recovery from a tourism point of view has been nothing short of remarkable.
The great thing about NOLA ………
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This month’s newsletter is unashamedly aimed at my tourism colleagues in Florida. I’m not usually given to being political (This is not political on party lines) but recent proposals to discontinue State support for Visit Florida and local Destination Marketing Organizations is a major concern for anyone even remotely connected to the industry.
The proposals, by Speaker of the Florida House, go further than removing funding from Visit Florida but wish to dismantle and abolish the organization totally.
For those of you in other US States, and indeed in other countries, you should be aware of this issue as it could be coming to your area too. Many politicians, world wide, fail to recognize the benefits of tourism to both their economies and to the benefit of mankind generally. Not only does travel “broaden the mind” but tourism promotes understanding of cultures and enables peoples to just get on with each other.
But back to Florida.
In 2015 Florida welcomed 106.6 million out of state and international visitors. The international travelers came from 190 different countries. This means that one in five international visitors to the whole USA come to Florida.
Those visitor’s sending supported 1.4 million jobs in the state and every 76 visitors supports 1 job. They spent an average of $300 million per day in 2015 – a total of $108.8 billion, which in turn generated $11.3 billion in sales tax.
We have had six straight years of record tourism spending.
For every $1 that the state of Florida invests in tourism, $3.20 in tax revenue is generated. That’s a 320% return on investment. Where else could you legally generate that sort of return?
If the proposals to defund Visit Florida go ahead, then tourism figures will suffer. Just a 5% drop in visitors would mean a loss of $5.5 billion in revenue, $563 million in taxes and a loss of 70,000 jobs.
Local fishing and tourist related industries (which is virtually every business in Northwest Florida – Remember the effects of the Oil Spill?) would all suffer. The Destin fishing fleet alone brings in $173 million in after value dollars to Okaloosa and Walton counties and the city of Destin. 90% of those dollars come from out of state tourists.
Colorado tried this and they lost 40% of their leisure traveler market over three years and revenues declined by $134 million.
Without the state and local taxes generated by tourism, each Florida household would have to pay $1,535 just to maintain the current level of government services.
We would also have to have State Income Tax, which we avoid currently. Tourists pay over 24% of sales tax, which is the sole reason we don’t have a state income tax.
Pennsylvania cut their budget in 2009 from $30 million to $7 million. Every $1 cut from the tourism budget cost $3.60 in lost tax revenue. From 2009 to 2014 Pennsylvania lost more than $600 million.
Washington State cut their budget from $7 million to $0 in 2011. Their competing state, Montana grew their tourists 70% faster than Washington.
Colorado cut their $12 million budget to $0 in 1993 and lost $1.4 billion in traveler spending within one year. Tax receipts declined by $134 million from ’93 to ’97. 18 years later Colorado still hasn’t recovered their market share.
Increasing the tourism budget has increased travel spending in many states, for example –
California increased their budget $50.1 million and travel spending increased $32.4 billion.
Florida increased the budget $43.3 million and travel spending increased $30 billion.
Minnesota increased their budget $10.5 million and travel spending increased $3.5 billion.
New Mexico increased budget $4.6 million and travel spending increased $933 million.
(Figures from Roger Dow, Head of U.S. travel)
It is essential that the tourism industry in Florida – all members and all levels – get behind the action to save Visit Florida and indeed all the Destination Marketing Organizations. Failure to do so will result in critical loss of jobs, drastic loss of tax revenue, and severe hardship for tax payers in the State.
To cut funding to Visit Florida and other DMOs is bordering on insanity. No business person in their right mind would take this sort of action.
As a consultant to the tourism industry my advice – given free, gratis and for nothing – is to resist this move strenuously.
Did you know that just 14 percent of Snapchat users are over 35 years old, where as half of Facebook users are over 35? If you asked what Snapchat is, then I guess you must be nearly as old as I am. The thing is that in tourism the digital world is where everything is happening. It’s been that way for a while and digital, particularly mobile devices, are leading the way. Google has seen a 50 percent increase in travel-related searches over the past year on smartphones — not tablets and laptops, but smartphones.
The younger travelers, millennials and centennials are committed to their phones and their influence on old travelers is very strong. Parents and grandparents are going to the youngsters for advice and research. These groups also love images and video. Instagram is the favorite social media channel for 33 percent of U.S. teenagers compared with only 14 percent for Facebook. YouTube reaches more people between the ages of 18 to 49 than any network TV or cable provider. YouTube reports that interest in travel-related video is up 60 percent in the last couple of years.
What does this mean for tourism?……
As you know, there are moves to de-fund Visit Florida. Such and action would cause irreparable damage to Florida’s tourism industry. If you would like to help, there are many ways you can influence the legislatures decision.
These include contacting your local legislators, contacting members of the committee involved in funding, writing to local news outlets, posting on social media and generally encouraging your contacts to support the action.
Below are links that will help.
As we enter this year’s legislative session, we are fortunate to have the support of Governor Scott and other key leaders. But each and every one of us in the industry needs to advocate for support of the state’s top tax revenue and jobs producer. Here’s how: View and download the slides that Roger Dow, head of U.S. Travel, presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week that shows what can happen if public funding for tourism marketing is taken away.
Email your local elected officials emphasizing the importance of continued funding for VISIT FLORIDA and support of the tourism industry. Contact information for your local elected officials can be found at TourismWorksForFlorida.org.
Share your voice as a participant in Tourism Day. Sign up here.
Some time ago, I wrote a blog about how I learned to love tourists called, “I’m not a Grockle, I live here.” (You can find it at http://ow.ly/Ps7k308ciuD, if only to find out what a “Grockle” is!). Having grown up in a small, historic country frequently visited by camera-wielding tourists, you quickly learned to embrace, rather than fight, human curiosity.
One of the major factors affecting world tourism in the coming years will be what’s termed “over-tourism.” We’ve seen the 300,000 residents of Iceland struggling with 3 million tourists a year. It’s almost impossible to buy a home in Venice and the city has almost become a tourist theme park. Machu Picchu, the Inca city situated 8,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes, has been forced to restrict tourist numbers at certain times of the year to avoid destroying the world heritage site.
These are extreme examples, but there is a need to manage tourism. It’s a process called Sustainable Tourism, which aims to ensure that development is a positive experience for locals and tourists while helping to generate future employment and……..