Editor’s note: Wednesday, the state House Careers and Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 in favor of bill PCB CCS-17-01, which would eliminate the public-private Visit Florida tourism partnership (along with the public-private Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization). Gov. Rick Scott wants to keep both.
Created by the legislature in 1996, Visit Florida provides a unique service that broadly benefits all citizens. Through public and private investment, the state’s tourism marketing corporation is able showcase both large and small destinations across the state.
It should be no surprise that the Florida Keys is a tourism-based economy. Therefore, when our Florida legislators develop a bill to eliminate this powerful partnership to attract visitors, I am deeply concerned of how it will impact not only our resort but local businesses such as restaurants, charter boat captains, tourist attractions and retailers.
Our employees are the backbone of our industry. I am inspired by their commitment and dedication to providing world-class service to our tourists. These are housekeepers, cooks, retail clerks and many others who make their livelihood from visitors.
The hospitality industry provides several opportunities for individuals to climb the ladder and realize the American dream. I’ve enjoyed more than 35 years in the hospitality industry, with my first summer job as a room clerk in Niagara Falls. Since that point, I’ve managed lodging properties all over the map, from New York City to Los Angeles, Tokyo to Orlando.
As a hotelier, I have the responsibility to balance my own budget to operate efficiently but often must take risks, including spending on advertising and marketing dollars. Sometimes we hit a home run and other times we are forced back to the drawing board. Hawks Cay Resort is one of the larger properties in the Keys so I don’t know the smaller, individually owned hotels, restaurants and other tourist-related businesses would be able to market and advertise out of state.
The argument has been made that with or without marketing, visitors will continue to come to Florida. In a highly competitive world, we devote marketing dollars to stand out from our rivals. Completely eliminating Visit Florida, or defunding it significantly, would create shock waves throughout Florida’s economy. In 2015, more than 106 millions tourists generated $108.8 billion in spending. Would any business consider not to advertise, market or promote?
How is it possible that our lawmakers are turning their back on the state’s No. 1 employer? Our industry has consistently led the way in job creation for this state, so it is troubling that our lawmakers no longer see the benefits of collectively investing in the future of this industry that supports 1.4 millions jobs.
While reforms are needed and transparency should be the priority of any entity that receives state funding, it is hard to ignore that since we’ve increased our Visit Florida investment, we’ve broken records for visitation for five consecutive years, and we’re on pace to do the same in 2016.
Visit Florida is an investment that we cannot afford to lose.
Sheldon Suga is vice president and managing director of Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. He’s worked more than 35 years in the hospitality industry and is on the executive committee for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.