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Welcome centers, Florida tourism ads may be axed  Jan 07, 2009

Florida may shut down its welcome centers that serve free orange juice and could also sharply curtail television ads that beckon snow-weary Northerners to the Sunshine State.

Lawmakers are considering steep cuts to Visit Florida, the public-private program that promotes tourism, to help avoid a budget deficit of at least $2.3 billion.

One tourism official said Tuesday the suggested cuts could cost the state millions of dollars that are spent by tourists the agency lures to Orlando area theme parks and the state's beaches.

"We just don't want to have the program gutted in such a way that it will create a downward spiral," said Richard Goldman, Visit Florida's chairman and chief marketing officer of Amelia Island Plantation.

The House is considering a nearly $13 million cut - about half the agency's budget - while the Senate is eyeing a $7.6 million reduction.

Either version would probably require the agency to slash unspent advertising funds, lay off staff or both, said Visit Florida president and chief executive officer Bud Nocera. At a minimum it could mean shutting Florida's five highway welcome centers at least on weekends.

"We do believe in you, but these are tough decisions we have to make," Rep. Rich Glorioso told Visit Florida officials.

Welcome centers, Florida tourism ads may be axed
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