The speaker of the Florida House is trying to end funding for Visit Florida. He's claiming that the state's tourism marketing effort isn't having any noticeable impact on the number of visitors to the state.
But is it? WUSF's Steve Newborn runs the numbers by Allison Graves of PolitiFact Florida.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes is taking aim at one of Gov. Rick Scott's most prized programs. He's filed a bill that would eliminate Visit Florida, the state's tourism arm.
Corcoran has some ammunition to get this done - there was a political backlash after the agency paid the Miami rapper Pitbull a cool million dollars to promote the state, with this video:
Year after year, Scott has called on the Legislature to boost Visit Florida’s budget to bring in more tourists, and this year was no different. Scott asked for $76 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Corcoran is driving legislation to kill both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which oversees state business incentive programs. Corcoran says the state's investment is a waste of money.
"Spending more taxpayer money on VISIT FL (or less) has not demonstrated a direct impact on tourism," Corcoran tweeted Feb. 6.
Corcoran’s push to eliminate Visit Florida comes after a fair share of negative publicity the past year.
In December 2016, Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe resigned amid political backlash after the agency paid Miami rapper Pitbull $1 million to promote Florida, which included a video promo dubbed "Sexy Beaches." This secret terms of the deal led Scott to ask the agency to create new policies that increase transparency.
To prove his point that tourism dollars don't have a direct effect on more tourists, Corcoran’s team sent data that included three measurements from 2000 to 2015: the annual number of Florida visitors, the amount of funding to Visit Florida, and the amount of money spent by Visit Florida per visitor. (The infographic only highlighted the first two measurements.)
Based on Corcoran's numbers, between 2011 to 2015, Visit Florida funding increased from $34 million to $74 million, or a roughly 112 percent change increase. In that same time, the number of visitors only showed a approximately 22 percent change increase.
Corcoran’s numbers seem to support his argument that increased spending historically didn't always lead to a tourist bump.
But experts said annual counts aren't the only metric used to determine the success of a marketing investment. They also look at how much money tourists invest themselves.
"A primary marketing strategy is to get tourists to stay longer in a destination thereby spending more money," said Kathleen Andereck, a professor at the College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University.
David Preece, the academic director for the Center for Hospitality & Tourism at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, said the better way to see a return on investment in marketing tourism is to look at how much visitors spend and the resulting tax revenues, rather than the number of visitors.
"After all, you can’t deposit visitors in the bank, but you sure can deposit the money they leave behind," Preece said.
Preece pointed to Visit Florida’s strategic plan to generate $100 billion in annual visitor spending by 2020. That number was $71.8 in 2012-13, $76.1 billion in 2013-14, $82 billion in 2014-15, and $89.1 billion in 2015-16. That plan shows a trend of roughly an additional 7.5 percent spending per year which, if held, would reach $100 billion in the next couple of years, he said.
The agency spent $1.2 million to advertise with the Fulham Football Club, a British soccer team (that isn't in England's famous Premier League). Part of the deal includes placing Visit Florida logos on the team’s jerseys and on the stadium’s roof, which is near London Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world.
Seccombe argued before leaving Visit Florida that targeting visitors from the United Kingdom was worth the effort.
"So everybody that flies into one of the busiest airports in the world sees 'Visit Florida' outside the window along with Buckingham Palace and Big Ben," Seccombe told the Tampa Bay Times.
In 2015, the number of United Kingdom tourists that visited Florida reached 1.7 million. On top of that, British tourists outspent visitors from every other country except Canada by spending around $1.5 billion on their visits. They also stay in the state 13.3 days on average compared with 4.9 of a U.S. traveler.
The statement is partially accurate but takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.