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My News 13: Tourism owners, officials fight for Visit Florida

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

By Jerry Hume, Reporter

Tourism officials are calling for a last-ditch effort to fight off funding cuts, as state lawmakers on Tuesday are expected to finalize the state budget.

Right now Visit Florida faces a proposed 67 percent cut in its funding.

As a part of an $83 billion budget deal, Visit Florida would receive $25 million in the upcoming fiscal year, compared to the $76 million it was allocated for the current year.

Leaders in the state House say they want to put an end to slush funds, corporate negligence and secret insider deals at Visit Florida.

However, some local area attraction owners are concerned cuts to Visit Florida would hurt their bottom line.

“(Cuts) would be very, very serious to us,” said Gatorland President & CEO Mark McHugh. “We depend on Visit Florida, Visit Orlando, and Experience Kissimmee, the destination market organizations to bring guests to Central Florida. We don’t have the marketing dollars to go out and advertise internationally or through all the feeder markets around the U.S. Once they get them here, that’s where our advertising kicks in.”

Gatorland is investing $2.5 million for a new stomp buggy attraction in the theme park’s largest expansion ever.

“We need visitors coming here to help us recover the investments that we and other attractions around Central Florida are making, huge investments in their businesses, we need people coming here,” said McHugh.

But in order to get visitors, McHugh says they need Visit Florida.

The state-run tourism agency markets the Sunshine State to the rest of the country and world. The Florida House of Representatives is proposing deep cuts to the agency.

“Everywhere we see waste, every door we open up and tell us what you’re doing, tell us your rate of return, tell us how efficiently have you been paying taxpayer money and we find waste in all these different corners,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican.

At Gatorland, two thirds of its visitors are either from out of state or out of the country and that is because of Visit Florida, McHugh said.

“We’re able to get our brand out to the international markets, the domestic markets, before they get here, get a little taste of Gatorland, tease them a little bit, we could never afford to do that without Visit Florida,” said McHugh.

Gov. Rick Scott wants to boost Visit Florida funding this year, up to $100 million.

Lawmakers have until Friday, May 5, to approve a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
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