State, federal funding offsets VISIT FLORIDA’s COVID-19 losses

The state’s tourism marketing corporation, VISIT FLORIDA, has a third less cash on hand than a year ago, and revenues from a trust fund derived from car rental surcharges are off about $8.4 million, but its leaders are still optimistic.

New state and federal aid is on its way, and Florida is uniquely positioned to see its tourism take off, according to Dana Young, VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO, speaking to the corporation’s finance committee. In total, the corporation’s total assets grew by .3 percent over the last fiscal year, according to Tuesday’s report.

Tuesday’s meeting had plenty of grim financial news left over from the effects of the COVID-19, but it was a precursor to VISIT FLORIDA’s signature event, the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism. Last year, it had to be canceled but this year it’s expected to attract some 1,100 participants to the Diplomat Beach Resort Hollywood.

While other states have been shut down, Florida has been positioning itself to keep its tourism business growing, Young said. The last pre-pandemic year, 2019, was the 10th year in a row for record Florida tourism and the first quarter of the 2021 calendar is already exceeding that high-water mark for domestic travel by 6.6%, Young said.

“We have a tremendous head start and we have a strategic advantage that we were able to create during that roughly seven-month period when we were the only state actively marketing,” Young said. “We are …  not just going to be satisfied to get back where we were.”

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the corporation received $53.6 million from the state. That was 9% more than was budgeted because of the COVID-19 rebound campaign.

For the coming year, VISIT FLORIDA is going to have $20.4 from the American Rescue Plan Act. The corporation also expects to receive another $4 million in federal money that the state held back from spending. In July, the federal government notified the state that another $14.8 million in funding for tourism promotion is coming. The bulk of it, $12.8 million is going to be spent on attracting families and wintertime travel.

One committee member, Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, said that his members saw a “sugar high” when people had their stimulus checks.

“The question mark now for us is whether folks will still feel comfortable spending, shopping,” Shalley said. “We hope they will.”

The Finance Committee members congratulated the VISIT FLORIDA staff for their efforts. Young said it couldn’t have been possible without Gov. Ron DeSantis laying the groundwork.

DeSantis opened the state’s nonessential businesses while many other states were in lockdown.

“He laid the runway and we just took off,” she said.

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