Tourism in Florida is booming, particularly in Northeast Florida.
Hotel occupancy is up throughout Duval, St. Johns and Nassau counties, and tourists are dumping record-breaking buckets of money hereabouts, reported the tourist development agencies in those three counties last week.
The out-of-town big-spenders dropped a record $57.79 million in Nassau County alone in the past six months. That’s $52.79 million more than President James Monroe paid Spain for the entire state a few years back. However, when inflation is factored in, that $5 million price tag today is about the same as the cost of a discounted three-night stay in a suite at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. If I were the King of Spain, I’d have my accounting department submit a revised invoice with a note to the U.S. Treasury, declaring: “During a routine audit of our accounts receivable department, we discovered a serious error in our sale of Florida invoice and, after factoring in interest and inflation, it appears you owe us a full week’s stay at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.”
So what’s causing these tourists to visit and spend so freely?
Nassau County’s Gil Langley, president of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, credits the increases to new marketing programs targeting folks from way, way up north, e.g., Bangor and the Klondike. He says people with deep pockets from Germany, the U.K. and Canada are also getting the message and heading here with wallets full of euros, pounds and loonies, which they need to exchange for dollars at the airport because nobody here accepts pounds, euros or loonies.
My Fernandina Beach PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden focus group indicates that people come here because it’s hot, and where they live, it’s cold. They prefer hot. They also come because they want to see alligators, drink cocktails decorated with little umbrellas, and leer at buxom gals in tiny bikinis on the beach.
According to my focus group, they didn’t come here because of rapper Pitbull, or because they glimpsed a “Visit Florida” logo on a race car, or saw a Jaguars “home” game in London.
Even Governor Rick Scott, who had a career in healthcare, not tourism, before deciding to be a governor, understood that rappers do not attract moneyed tourists. So he cleaned house when he discovered that rapper Pitbull, whose musical message is about doing drugs, partying and having sex, had been named a “Florida ambassador” by Visit Florida to the tune of one million taxpayer bucks.
Hiring Pitbull to publicize our state was like creating a jingle saying: “Come to Florida, we have it all—hurricanes, sinkholes, sharks, poisonous snakes, the Zika virus and more.” And the demographic these Visit Florida “tourism experts” were targeting had already spent all its cash on tattoos, piercings and pot.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’Lakes), also has a better grasp on what attracts tourists here than the confused Visit Florida folks. Corcoran recently forced that agency to cancel a $2.875 million contract to an organization called the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for a season of racing a “Visit Florida Car” in tourist-rich sites such as Braselton, Georgia, Watkins Glen, New York and Salinas, California. In an obvious understatement, Corcoran said: “Visit Florida has heard us loud and clear and we are beginning the process of cleaning up their act and ceasing the waste of taxpayer money.”
Maybe the unemployed Visit Florida racecar driver can apply to be a “hotdogger,” a term used for drivers of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, a vehicle successfully used to market products.
Speaking of advertising on racecars, I’ve often wondered how many women—after watching a NASCAR event with a car painted to resemble a box of Tide detergent—race to the store to snap up that stuff? Probably the same number that up in Bemidji, Minnesota turned to their husbands or boyfriends and said: “Honey, Pitbull just put me in the mood to run stoned and naked through the Minnesota Vikings’ locker room and then go to Florida.”
Now that we’re shed of Pitbull and the racecar, there’s still the London-based kickball team—the Fulham Football Club—that was to cost Florida taxpayers about $1.25 million annually to sponsor. Last week, the Florida Times-Union reported that Visit Florida pulled the sponsorship plug. However, those news items failed to say how much of the sponsorship was yanked.
I tried to find out how much funding was being pulled, but five phone calls and four emails to different PR people at Visit Florida have thus far gone unanswered. Apparently I’ve discovered another Visit Florida area where the state could save taxpayer money.
Of course the Fulham Club football sponsorship may be a bigger challenge than dumping racers and rappers, since the English team is owned by Governor Scott financial supporter Shad Khan who also owns the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.
Is Gov. Scott, who’ s eyeballing a 2018 U.S. Senate race, running interference on Khan’s behalf? Or is he willing to take a hit for the taxpayer team?
Scott is a former newspaper reporter and retired corporate and agency public relations professional. He blogs at davescottblog.com.