Palm Beach County tourism officials said they will look for more ways to partner with industry businesses, attractions and local government groups to showcase the area as an international vacation and meetings destination following the Florida Legislature’s decision to slash money for statewide tourism marketing.
The legislature this week approved an $83 billion budget that sets aside $25 million for the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida — a $50 million cut from the agency’s 2016 spending plan.
Just last month, Gov. Rick Scott had pressed both the Florida Senate and House for $100 million in Visit Florida marketing dollars for next year’s budget. “We have plenty of money,” Scott insisted in calling for an increase in funding. “When we invest in Visit Florida, it helps us grow our economy.”
But lawmakers rebuffed his call, forcing tourism marketing agencies to go to Plan B.
The reduction “puts a further focus and onus on us at the county and the regional level to do more and be more focused,” said Jorge Pesquera, the President and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, the organization charged with marketing the county as a tourism hot spot. “It is the most tourism intensive state in the country and the notion that people are just going to continue to come if we don’t advertise and promote is just not a good thing.”
Without the state’s aid, county tourism leaders will have to work more closely to leverage their advertising dollars. Some members of the county’s Tourist Development Council, pointed to municipal officials, saying they may need to set aside money for advertising to help keep tourists flocking to their cities and towns.
“We will have to get all the organizations together we will have to re-prioritize how we deal with the Visit Florida loss,” Glenn Jergensen, the council’s executive director said at a meeting Thursday.
Tourism is one of the county’s largest industries, contributing more than $7 billion to the local economy. Since 2010, the number of tourists who travel to the county has grown by 65 percent.
A record-breaking 7.4 million visitors came here in 2016, a 5.8 increase over 2015’s level. It marked the eighth consecutive year of tourism growth in the county.
But after years of growth, the county’s industry is showing some signs of slowing.
Although tourism tax collections are up about 2.6 percent for the budget year, the county had projected 3.5 percent growth this year.
“We are watching it very closely,” Jergensen said.
The average price of a hotel room in Palm Beach County have also remained flat, tourism officials said.
David Burke, Executive Vice President, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer for The Breakers and a member of the county’s tourist council, said hotels have been bracing for a slowdown for more than a year.
“We had a great run for three or four years of great growth, but those days are gone,” Burke said. “We have a lot of head winds in front of us now, whether it be Zika or the economy.”
Although this year’s late Easter holiday is expected to helped boost hotel booking and tourism tax collections, hoteliers warned the summer and fall travel seasons could also be slow for the industry.