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State groups want legislators to continue funding Visit Florida

Lawmakers must approve funding this session
Posted at 4:12 AM, Apr 18, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Groups from around the Sunshine State are sending a message calling for legislators to continue funding the state's tourism agency Visit Florida.

They were handing out green slime representing last year's toxic algae outbreak, that sent visitors packing to other destinations until Visit Florida reminded everyone the sunshine state is open for business.

Russell Daws, with the Tallahassee Museum, says Visit Florida plays a large role in attracting visitors to Big Bend shops, restaurants and museums.

"If we do not invest in tourism marketing, our destination marketing, other state are spending more and more money trying to take away our market," said Daws.

The goal of the tourism agency, get out the word about the unique places each area of Florida has to offer.

Like this caboose, which ran for the Florida railroad from the 1920's to the 40's. Now it's a hidden gem at the Tallahassee Museum for visitors to get a taste of the Sunshine State's history.

Visit Florida also plays a critical role in boosting tourism after natural disasters, like Hurricane Michael and toxic algae blooms.

"A lot of North Florida is open for business and they helped carry that message further than we ever could with our limited marketing budget. So they help us not just in times of crisis communication, but ongoing marketing programs," said Kerri Post, Director of Visit Tallahassee.

Visit Florida will dissolve in October if lawmakers don't approve funding.

"That's really going to hurt our small and medium-sized, and our smaller tourism reliant businesses that really count on the programs and the advertising and the promotions that Visit Florida offers them," said Jennifer Fennell with the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations.

So that places like the Tallahassee Museum stay busy all year long.

"Florida has to be in the front and making sure that when people are considering travel, they only think of Florida and to do that we need a strong Visit Florida," said Daws.

The Sunshine State, as well as Leon County, welcomed a record-breaking number of visitors in 2018 keeping Florida in the competitive tourism game.

Before this legislative session ends, the Senate is expected to vote on whether the tourism agency will get additional funding to keep it open.