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Florida is missing the boat on tourism

Douglas C. Lyons /  May 12, 2009

Michigan never looked so good. Cool lakes, serene woods - the TV commercial offers a perfect escape from just about anything that ails you.

The same can be said for California, a state running a similar welcoming campaign that features glitzy locales and a cameo appearance by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who makes you feel like a "girlie-man" for not immediately booking a flight to the Golden State.

The war between the states over tourism continues in earnest, and there's plenty of money to be had for the destination that does the best job attracting new visitors. Unfortunately, Florida is on the verge of becoming a bit player, and in the long run that could cost taxpayers here big time. Oh, there are those "Shine" commercials, as in the Sunshine State ad campaign. But, when it's all said and done in the competitive field of travel marketing, Florida is just about...well, done.

Visit Florida, the agency responsible for enticing all those tourists to drop what they're doing and spend their money with us, faces a 30 percent budget cut beginning this summer. The almost $10 million hit won't help the agency, which had been straining to keep up with such promotional juggernauts as Jamaica and Las Vegas, not to mention up and comers like Kentucky and Michigan.

Tourism is Florida's largest industry - with somewhere between 1.2 million and 1.8 million jobs relying on visitors to the Sunshine State, according to Florida TaxWatch. State lawmakers, however, grumbled over the expenses VisitFlorida undertook to promote tourism, like traveling. The lawmakers apparently can't see the potential sales tax revenue.

California continues to push its attractions, even with a multi-billion dollar budget deficit that makes Florida's look like a petty cash oversight. Michigan's unemployment may be in the toilet, right along with what's left of Detroit's Big Three automakers. But, that hasn't tourism officials stoppedfrom hyping Michigan's natural beauty.

Florida TaxWatch put tourism's importance this way: "Florida policy-makers and citizens alike should not take the positive contributions that tourism makes to Florida's economy for granted."

Too bad state lawmakers didn't get the memo.

Florida is missing the boat on tourism
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