FL House Speaker Oliva casts doubt on funding for Visit Florida

Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva. CBS Miami screenshot

Funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing agency, will again face strong opposition in the Florida House when lawmakers meet in their annual session next month.

In an opinion column in the Tampa Bay Times, House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami-Dade Republican, reiterated his skepticism over the use of state funding to buy ads and launch marketing initiatives aimed at boosting Florida tourism, which is one of the key economic drivers in the state.

“Recognition that marketing works and at the same time questioning the necessity and efficacy of Visit Florida are not incongruous,” Oliva wrote.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has recommended that Visit Florida continue to receive $50 million in the coming year for its advertising and marketing efforts. The Senate is likely to support funding for the program.

But Oliva notes over the last three years, the agency has only spent just under 60 of its budget on direct marketing. The rest, he notes, goes for the agency’s salaries, travel, office space and other administrative expenses, meaning only $30 million is being spent on tourism marketing.

“So we are left to ask ourselves the following question: if Visit Florida went away tomorrow what is the impact of losing — at worst — $30 million in taxpayer funded marketing?” Oliva wrote.

“If the answer is, a significant impact, that would force us to rethink our position on the agency,” Oliva wrote. “However, if the answer is negligible to nothing, that would force us to rethink whether funding is necessary at all and what other state priorities could use that $30 million annually. Children and Families? Medicaid? Veterans?”

Oliva also notes that even in the absence of the state funding, local governments across the state raise more than $1 billion a year in local tourist taxes that can be used for their marketing and advertising campaigns.

The issue of Visit Florida funding will be part of the negotiations between the House and Senate over the new $91 billion-plus state budget for 2020-21. And the budget differences will not be resolved until the final weeks of the 2020 Legislature, which is scheduled to end on March 13.