Tourism officials look to expand marketing efforts

TALLAHASSEE – As leaders oppose a federal recommendation to close bars and stop eating indoors, Florida’s tourism marketing agency is looking west as the industry continues to seek, amid the COVID-19 pandemic to recover.

The next audience for Visit Florida will be the West Coast, expanding previous efforts aimed at travelers from East Coast cities who might be heading to Florida or taking short flights.

“Think California, Oregon, and Washington State,” visit the President and CEO of Florida Dana Young said during an online meeting on Friday of the Visit Florida Executive Committee. “Although the international outlook is still quite uncertain at the moment, we are doing everything in our power to keep an eye on Florida through our agencies and to ensure that we are in the best possible position not only to regain market share but also to expand our market Share when global travel resumes. “

However, before the next phase of marketing moves in the coming weeks, there are concerns about a January 17 recommendation by the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force to close bars, indoor restaurants, gyms and other indoor spaces where masks are not 100 percent worn will stop the spread of COVID-19.

“My phone was blown up because the president’s COVID task force wanted Florida to close all bars, restaurants and gyms,” the committee member said Carol Doverwho is President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Florida’s hospitality and leisure industries have been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and Dover said such closures would “hurt our tourism numbers quite drastically”.

The chances of Florida closing down seem slim, as Gov. Ron DeSantis firmly believed he will not repeat closings that occurred last spring following the state’s pandemic.

When DeSantis tabled a budget proposal of $ 96.6 billion on Thursday, he reiterated that message.

“While so many other states have people (locked up), Florida has lifted people up,” DeSantis said. “We believe that every job is important. You work in a restaurant; We have your back. If you are a hairdresser, we protect your right to make a living. And if you are a parent, we make sure that your children have the right to go to school in person. Locks don’t work. “

Danny GaekwadThe Vice Chairman of the Visit Florida Executive Committee described the task force’s proposal as a “nonsense” idea.

In a White House profile report on Sunday, Florida was classified as a “red zone” for the virus, without mentioning company closures. As of Thursday, Florida had reported 4,367 deaths from COVID-19 in January, most in a month. The 363,751 additional cases reported for January were also the most in any month since the pandemic began.

As part of its budget proposal presented on Thursday, DeSantis recommended Visit Florida to receive $ 50 million in the upcoming 2021-2022 fiscal year, the same amount as this year.

House Republican leaders have in recent years criticized Visit Florida spending, which again faced the risk of being taken out of business during the 2020 legislature. However, the final stage of budget negotiations came when the pandemic resulted in theme parks, sporting events and businesses going out of business.

In addition to the $ 50 million that was funded, lawmakers last year extended Visit Florida’s approval to October 1, 2023.

Chairman of the Senate for Commerce and Tourism Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater has submitted a proposal (SB 778) for the 2021 meeting that would rule out the possibility of repeal in 2023.

“It would also clarify what is otherwise a confusing part of the legal framework we are operating under and make it clear that we can bring forward funds if they are not spent due to a hurricane or the current pandemic and things like that,” Young said .

Young said a home version of the bill is expected to be submitted soon. The 2021 session begins on March 2nd.