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Economy / Business

Visit Florida president gets a raise amid tourism rebound

Bicyclists ride on a sidewalk in between palm trees in the foreground, and hotels in the background under a clear, blue sky.
Visitors bike along South Beach in Miami Beach, Fla. Tourism has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic and the state is coming into high tourism season when it would typically see visitors from Canada and the northeast U.S.

With the state drawing record numbers of tourists from other parts of the country as the industry rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young received an 8.6% pay boost.

With the state drawing record numbers of tourists from other parts of the country as the industry rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young received an 8.6% pay boost Thursday.

“I look forward to continuing to work with you all and hope that we don't face challenges in the future as an organization or as a state or the world that we faced in the last few years,” Young, a former state lawmaker from Tampa, said during a meeting of the tourism-marketing agency’s board at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.

Young, who has led Visit Florida since 2019, last year turned down the board’s offer of an 8% pay increase and a $7,500 bonus. She accepted Thursday’s salary hike.

Outgoing Visit Florida Board Chairman Danny Gaekwad noted Young’s rejection of the 2021 offer before calling for the board to increase Young’s annual salary from $175,000 to $190,000.

“In her view, despite the amazing progress Florida had made in its recovery from the pandemic, especially relative to our competitors, there was still a lot of work to do on behalf of our industry,” Gaekwad said. “And she simply did not feel good about accepting any additional compensation at that time.”

Visit Florida said on its website that pay for four executives, including Young, comes from state and private money, with taxpayers covering $120,000 for each.

Board member Lino Maldonado said Young is “grossly underpaid” by industry standards.

“There are medium- and small-sized companies that have marketing managers, directors that actually are paid more,” Maldonado said.

While international travel numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the state attracted 35.982 million visitors during the first quarter of 2022. That surpassed totals from similar quarters before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the hospitality and leisure industry.

"Two years ago, it was all gloom and doom, and now last year was the best ever," Gaekwad said. "We have just closed our third consecutive quarter of overall visitation exceeding (the) pre-pandemic level and have seen 12 solid months of growth in domestic visitation, making calendar year 2021 the best year for domestic visitation ever."

Travel from other countries, however, has lagged. During the first quarter of 2022, the state attracted 1.323 million visitors from overseas and 578,000 from Canada. In 2019, the state averaged just over 2.45 million overseas tourists and 1.022 million Canadians each quarter.

In a record $109.9 billion state budget that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last week, Visit Florida will receive $50 million for advertising efforts in the fiscal year that will start July 1.

The agency received $80 million for the current fiscal year, including $30 million in federal stimulus money.

Also Thursday, the board named Greg Cook, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, as chairman to replace Gaekwad.

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