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Visit Florida Approves Budget, Eyes More Money for Tourism Recovery

The Board of Directors of Visit Florida on Wednesday approved more than $42 million for tourism marketing as, part of the state agency’s $108 million operating budget for next fiscal year.

Still, board member Carol Dover says more money may be needed in order to offset the economic damage the pandemic has caused to Florida’s tourism and hospitality industries.

Dover, who serves as president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said she has already mentioned to Gov. Ron DeSantis the need for Visit Florida to get additional funds if lawmakers are called into a special session to address budget impacts from COVID-19.

“I mentioned directly to him the importance of putting more money in Visit Florida’s coffers,” Dover said during the board’s conference call Wednesday. “And I said $50 million isn’t even enough when it’s under normal circumstances, but now that we have COVID to deal with, we need probably twice that much to just try to get the state back up on our feet.”

She added, “But I do think, if and when we go back into special session, even if it’s after the November election, my thought was that we should try to see if we can get additional funding for marketing.”

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young, who is a former lawmaker, said the tourism-marketing agency will “be very engaged in that and we’ll be working closely with the governor’s office” if a special session were held.

Last week, the governor said he plans to cut enough spending from the state’s proposed $93.2 billion budget to keep lawmakers from having to address a coronavirus-fueled loss in tax revenues before the election in November.

Visit Florida is set to receive $50 million in the budget that will take effect July 1. That is the same amount as it received for the current year, when its state funding was cut from $76 million to $50 million.

Also included in the spending is $8.5 million for 85 positions at Visit Florida, the same amount as in the current year.

Critics have questioned the need for the agency’s existence, since Florida’s weather, beaches and major theme parks typically draw tourists on their own.

Part of the upcoming marketing effort will be $13 million to be directly focused on a rebound in tourism. The initial effort will be on getting Floridians to explore other parts of the state.

According to Visit Florida, hotels in the state lost nearly $3.5 billion in revenue between March 1 and May 30.

In addition, about 40 percent of people who filed unemployment claims in the state between March 15 and April 21 came from the tourism sector.