Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

VisitFlorida execs short on PR skills

The folks who market Florida to the world need to market themselves.

That was obvious after state senators' intense questioning of tourism executives at a budget workshop this week that was more like something out of the Army-McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.

The scene was a vivid reminder that when legislators ask the penetrating budget questions that need to be asked, they elicit mountains of good information. And, in a time of little money, politicians are in a foul mood and eager to string up every hapless bureaucrat they can find.

It's a perilous time to walk the Capitol's corridors while freely spending tax money.

A public-private tourism promotion program called VisitFlorida has a $99 million budget, including $35 million this year from taxpayers (thanks partly to Gov. Charlie Crist, who restored $10 million that lawmakers took away in a recent special session).

Some of that money (about $600,000, including brochures and postage) went to a call center in Kansas City, Mo. — of all places — where poorly informed operators reportedly dispense bad information to tourists.

This hardly fits the definition of an agency's core mission that is the mantra du jour of lawmakers searching for nickels and dimes to save. It's doubly ironic, considering Florida is viewed as the call center capital of the country.

"You do what you want with Disney's money and Universal's money," lectured Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who chairs the Senate budget panel overseeing tourism. "If you're going to take $35 million of taxpayer money, you're going to do your best to contract with the people of Florida."

Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, told of a call center operator who said landlocked Tallahassee has a beach and Miami is the state capital.

As the call center controversy subsided, VisitFlorida executives were pelted with questions the next day about six-figure salaries, five-figure bonuses, overseas travel and other expenses. Largely absent was any serious discussion of how well VisitFlorida performs its mission of getting tourists here.

With two TV cameras positioned in the hearing room, the questioning intensified.

When the tone of the questioning turns hostile, and any lawmaker appears to be generating heat, not light, there are murmurs in the audience of a "hidden agenda."

It's the job of legislators, our elected representatives, to come to work well prepared and eager to drill deep down into agency budgets. But the budget shortfall is so vast that legislators should be just as vigilant at scrutinizing every agency of government, lest they appear petty by flailing away at relatively minor gaffes like an out-of-state call center.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said VisitFlorida's $85,000 budget for four board meetings a year suggests the agency has "missed the core message" — attracting tourists.

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, struck a balance and provided a sense of proportion by reminding them that the state Department of Transportation controls about $9 billion a year.

"I only wish we could give them this level of scrutiny," Dockery said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

VisitFlorida execs short on PR skills 02/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 7:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa court hearing rescheduled for accused neo-Nazi jihadist killer

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Attorneys for Devon Arthurs, the alleged former neo-Nazi turned jihadist accused of shooting to death his two roommates, have asked to reschedule a court hearing that had been set for Wednesday morning.

  2. Parent of struggling DeVry University is changing its name to Adtalem

    Corporate

    Associated Press

    DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — The company that owns one of the nation's largest for-profit college chains is changing its name.

    This 2009 photo shows the entrance to the DeVry University in Miramar, Fla. DeVry Education Group, which owns DeVry University, announced Wednesday that it will now be called Adtalem Global Education. 
[Associated Press file photo]

  3. NATO rolls out the red carpet, buffs its image for Trump

    World

    BRUSSELS — NATO is not only rolling out the red carpet for U.S. President Donald Trump in Brussels Thursday, the military alliance — which Trump once declared obsolete — has been busy repackaging its image and is ready to unveil a new headquarters worth more than 1 billion euros.

    U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at Fiumicino's Leonardo Da Vinci International airport, near Rome, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Trump is in Italy for a two day visit, including a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, ahead of his participation in a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday. [Associated Press]
  4. Taiwan becomes first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage

    World

    TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a first for Asia, Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, punctuating a yearslong campaign by advocates for gay rights in one of the continent's most liberal democracies.

    Same-sex marriage supporters wave rainbow Taiwan flags after the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, making the island the first place in Asia to recognize gay unions. [Associated Press]
  5. 'Top Gun' sequel? Tom Cruise says it starts filming soon

    Blogs

    Tom Cruise is once again feeling the need for speed.

    Tom Cruise starred in "Top Gun" in 1986, and said he'll begin work on a sequel within the next year.