Monday, February 19, 2018
Opinion

Column: Colorado experience shows importance of investing in Visit Florida

Under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, the revival of the Florida economy has been marked by annual job growth and tourism rates that outpace the national average. The inextricable link between Florida's investment in its tourism industry and this economic recovery is affirmed by the statistics.

Visitor spending in Florida has increased by an average of 6.8 percent annually over the past five years, with $78.3 billion spent in 2010 growing to $108.8 billion by 2015. The impact of this job creation spending cannot be understated, with statistics showing that for every 76 visitors that visit the state, one job is supported. In addition, the return on investment Florida sees from Visit Florida is irrefutably positive, with each dollar invested in Visit Florida generating $3.20 in tax revenue.

To gauge just how disastrous major cuts to Visit Florida would be, one must look to Colorado. Keep in mind that Colorado has a more diversified and equitable share of its gross domestic product among different industries, and it is not quite as reliant upon the tourism industry alone for its revenues. So, presumably, the impact of defunding tourism marketing programs in Florida would be even more drastic than it was in Colorado.

In 1993, an obscure provision in the state law allowed for the funding of the state's tourism marketing mechanisms to expire. This meant that Colorado became the first state to essentially eliminate its funding for tourism marketing.

The effects were fairly immediate and more drastic than could have been anticipated. The elimination of their $12 million tourism marketing budget manifested in a 30 percent decrease in Colorado's share of the domestic tourism market. In terms of dollars, this cut Colorado's tourism revenue by $1.4 billion annually.

Eventually, this loss would consistently top $2 billion, with Colorado's summer resort tourism share, previously number one in the nation, falling to 17th place. Even more troublesome is that despite this self-inflicted annual hemorrhaging of Coloradans' tourism revenue, it took seven years to reinstate a tourism marketing budget. We all know the wheels of government can be sluggish, but it could be avoidable. With billion-plus dollar losses within the tourism industry, enduring that for seven years without real intervention is a frightening prospect. That is the reality that the Florida Legislature should seriously consider as it considers the future of Visit Florida.

For comparison's sake, in 2015 Colorado set a state visitor spending record with $19.1 billion collected. As noted, Florida's 2015 visitor spending total was over $108 billion. Cutting tourism marketing funds in Florida would have exponentially more serious consequences to the state economy than Colorado experienced.

Fortunately, like Florida, Colorado's tourism is now thriving, setting records in terms of visitor numbers, spending and tax revenues. Legislators there acknowledge the critical role that marketing campaigns have served in producing record tourism numbers, and they have increased spending annually since the budget was reinstated in 2000. What started as a $5.5 million budget for tourism marketing in 2000 has become a $19 million resource pool in 2015, a relatively minor investment with a substantial payout.

Colorado provides a cautionary tale regarding the value of funding marketing for Florida's tourism industry. Visit Florida, under the guidance of Gov. Rick Scott, has installed a framework that spreads investment costs between the public and private sectors, all the while maintaining systems that allow for misspent money to be recouped.

Spending public money through Visit Florida is fiscally responsible, logical for businesses and critical to the prosperity of all Floridians. For proof of their importance to Florida's tourism-dependent economy, simply look to the West.

Pat Neal is a former state senator and the chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog. He is a homebuilder based in Lakewood Ranch.

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