Tourist trade groups to fight Visit Florida repeal bill

Spectrum News TV Channel 13

by Greg Pallone

Last Updated: Thursday, February 09, 2017, 4:55 PM EST

 - A plan to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida isn't sitting well with some in the tourism industry.
  • Florida Legislature bill eliminates economic development agencies
  • Visit Florida, state's main tourism agency, among them
  • Some tourism groups say bill hurts their business

There's opposition to Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran's proposed bill they say will cripple their businesses and cost jobs.

"I call it the Field of Dreams mentality, because we're here, they are going to come," said Tom Williamson, president of the Cocoa Beach Hotel Association. "There couldn't be anything more wrong about that assumption."

He runs two hotels himself and touts tourism and its $3.1 billion impact to Brevard County.

When he heard about Corcoran's proposed bill to shut down Visit Florida and other economic development agencies and programs, he balked at the idea.

"If anybody thinks that people don't have a choice where to go when they travel, they are just naive. They are going to go to the places that they see in marketing," Williamson said.

The main function of the public-private Visit Florida is attracting tourists to the Sunshine State. Corcoran, a Republican from the Tampa Bay area, says the economic development agencies are a waste of money.

Williamson said shutting it down will hurt not only his business but others tied to the state's tourism industry. He says that means millions of dollars lost and thousands of people forced out of work.

"There's a whole ripple effect people don't realize," he said.

The Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce Board is also standing up against the proposed bill, saying Florida's tourism industry is a critical economic driver and job creator, creating a $183 billion impact to the state.

Chamber President Christian Malesic said other states are still suffering from the Great Recession, but Florida and Melbourne are on the verge of an economic boom.

"Now is not the time to throw on the brakes," he said.

Florida's legislative session begins next month. Lawmakers say a compromise plan is possible.