Just a little more than a month after Florida’s legislature caved in to pressure from its governor, Rick Scott, as well as the state’s entire travel and tourism industry, and approved the restoration of the $76 million budget of Visit Florida (the state’s public-private sector tourism promotion agency) it appears as if the move might have created some unanticipated problems.
According to a report by a trade publication that specializes in coverage of association and DMO news, major destination marketing organizations in the state are bailing on the organization, which had already lost more than 15 senior sales, marketing and operations executives since late December 2016.
The saga began with the forced resignation late in December of Will Seccombe, who was ousted from his position as president and CEO of the public-private sector organization over an expired $1 million dollar contract with a globally known rapper, Pitbull, whose efforts included a video of a scantily clad women performing with the rapper on the state’s beaches. (The video did not go over well with certain key members of the Florida legislature.) It seemed to conclude with the July 7 resignation of Alfredo Gonzalez, the organization’s vice president of global meetings and trade.
Now, as Visit Florida goes through a restructuring phase, USAE News reports that—apparently because of the fine print requirements in the bill funding Visit Florida which call for the release salary information from the agency’s member organizations—a fifth of Visit Florida’s DMO members have left the state agency.
Stephen Lawson, vice president of government relations for Visit Florida, told USAE that 11 Visit Florida members have “opted out” of the organization. These include: the Greater Miami CVB, Visit Orlando, Visit Tampa Bay, Experience Kissimmee, Discover the Palm Beaches, Florida Keys Tourist Development Council, Visit South Walton and DMOs representing Santa Rosa, Brevard, Franklin and Seminole counties.
Language in the legislation funding Visit Florida stipulates that the state agency’s partners which received more than half of their revenue in the previous fiscal year from a public source must report all public and private financial data to lawmakers, including the salaries of employees and board members from both public and private sources.
William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami CVB, as well as chairman of the 31-member Visit Florida board of directors, told USAE News that his organization is taking a pause due to concern about the ambiguity surrounding the reporting of board members’ salaries. The Miami bureau can always return to Visit Florida, he added, noting that tourism bureaus throughout the state are still figuring out the recently passed legislation.
“At this point we are reviewing the new provisions and have not determined our formal response,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “Any position we may take would not be done until after consultation with our board leadership and legal counsel.” And DT Minich, president and CEO of Experience Kissimmee, told USAE News that his bureau has engaged in several conversations with Visit Florida leadership regarding its concerns.
Explained Minich: “Our decision was based on several factors which include, but are not limited to, the fact that Visit Florida had not disclosed the 2017/2018 marketing plan prior to last week (the fiscal year began July 1st) and the provision reporting structure for DMOs participating in marketing programs with Visit Florida are unclear. This is about protecting the privacy of our board members and the viability of relationships and contracts with private sector companies, many of which carry non-disclosure clauses. To share this type of information would be detrimental to both current and future strategic partnership.”