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Tampa Bay Business Journal: Corcoran’s anti-tourism marketing agenda takes hold in the Florida House

Thursday, January 11, 2018

By: Janelle Irwin

The Florida House of Representatives is fast tracking a bill that could hamper state and local tourism marketing.

House Bill 3, a priority for Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’Lakes), would increase oversight for economic development agencies, including tourism groups that use public funding, and limit how the groups could spend money.

The bill breezed through its committee stops and is awaiting a vote by the full Florida House. Thousands of bills are filed each year, and some take weeks to make it through committees amid debate and public interest while some never get heard.

The measure blocks tourism agencies from spending money on food, beverages, lodging, entertainment or gifts and from accepting any of those things from other individuals or entities.

“We will no longer be able to host marketing events for event planners, sports teams, media and other prospective customers because these events typically involve food, beverages, lodging, tickets and entertainment, which would not be permitted under HB 3,” said Robert Skrob, executive director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations. “This is how we draw visitors, conventions and conferences, sporting events and other functions to our areas.”

Local group Visit Tampa Bay has attracted several high-profile events over the last several years including a Super Bowl, the NHL All-Star Weekend, the Bollywood awards and the College Football Playoff National Championship, among others.

Further hampering groups like Visit Tampa Bay is a provision in the bill that would require agencies to post contracts totaling more than $5,000 on their website within five business days.

“We recognize the need for transparency in all contracts that spend tax dollars and agree this information should be available to the public, but would like to have a longer window of time for posting this information to avoid having our deals undercut by other destinations in this highly competitive industry,” Skrob said.

Skrob is fighting another provision that would block agencies from conducting business that benefits just one entity. That rule would most directly affect smaller communities with just one hotel or where an individual hotel drives business to a convention center or other tourism destination.

That would not likely affect the Tampa Bay region because the three metro areas, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, have numerous hotels that would benefit from tourism marketing deals.

This is the second year in a row destination marketing agencies have faced legislative setbacks. During the 2017 session, Corcoran sought to gut state funding for Visit Florida.

Corcoran targeted Tampa in his opening day speech on Tuesday when he said the city created an illegal tax by implementing a hotel surcharge on certain downtown and Ybor hotels, a claim city officials deny. Corcoran argues it was a money grab aimed at securing funds for a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn promptly fired back on Twitter saying that claim was incorrect.

Tourism marketing groups have some hope this year despite being again targeted by one of Tallahassee’s most powerful lawmakers. A similar bill in the Senate has yet to be heard in any committee. Both the House and Senate must approve and reconcile a bill for it to land on Scott’s desk.

If a measure does make it that far, it faces Scott’s veto pen. Scott and Corcoran dueled over tourism marketing spending last year with Scott favoring more spending, not less.

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