Haley Hopeful Lawmakers Will Reconsider Visit Florida

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY MAR 28, 2019

As members of the Florida House moved ahead on the state budget, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota, listened intently during a visit to Tallahassee. Her great concern with the House budget remains, as it has been for the past couple years, the future of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

“Visit Florida is always important to mid-sized destinations such as Sarasota,” she says. But it seems especially vital after a year like 2018, when red tide plagued local beaches and incited hotel room cancellations and a spate of bad publicity for the entire Gulf Coast.

But the state tourism bureau remains in a bad spot. While the House plans to fund Visit Florida through Oct. 1, the agency is set to sunset at the start of the new fiscal year.

Haley stressed the importance of changing course. Without Visit Florida, she says, Sarasota couldn’t reach international visitors in Europe and Canada with the same strength. Today, much of the marketing for the area gets achieved through cooperative campaigns with the state.

On top of that, Sarasota this year received an emergency funding grant regarding red tide and benefited from a regional effort funded by Visit Florida to work with Google tracking algal blooms with more precision and immediacy.

As for this year, Haley says the region remains in recovery from the environmental disaster. “We’re not completely back to normal,” she says, “but we are starting to see a nice uptick in visitors. Hoteliers are getting a little more optimistic.”

It takes marketing, though, to show the world Sarasota’s beaches remain beautiful, clean and safe.

Visit Florida itself wants the state to budget $76 million annually and keep the doors open. Haley says that’s an appropriate amount. The organization remains controversial in Tallahassee, especially after non-transparent spending habits two years ago put leaders at odds with the House.

But Haley remains hopeful lawmakers see the importance of keeping tourism vibrant in the Sunshine State.

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