A new Florida TaxWatch study encourages state leaders to invest more money in tourism promotion.
The study suggests that more money is needed for marketing to reach the next milestone in front of Florida — 100 million visitors a year. Last year, the state saw more than 87 million visitors — a record.
TaxWatch estimates that reaching 100 million visitors a year will create 121,298 jobs in the state, paying an average salary of nearly $44,000.
"Tourism is really good because it diversifies the Florida economy away from the Florida business cycle. So it stabilizes the Florida economy," said Jerry D. Parrish, a chief economist and executive director of the Florida TaxWatch Center for Competitive Florida.
The TaxWatch analysis found that tourism is less tied to the Florida business cycle than most industries in the state, that it was only one of three sectors creating jobs in the early part of Florida's recent recession, and that it lost the second-least number of jobs by percentage in Florida during the U.S. recession. Since the U.S. recession ended, tourism has emerged as the second biggest job creator in the state, behind only the health care and social assistance industry.
The report points out that Florida attractions have continued to expand, creating new opportunities to attract visitors. Examples are the opening of Legoland, a new park in Winter Haven, and the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
"There's an opportunity for the Legislature to expand their marketing to take advantage of the infrastructure we already have and bring in more tourists," Parrish said.
Expanding tourism will diversify the state's economy in two ways, he said: by creating a buffer against a Florida recession and by generating a range of jobs outside the industry that are needed to support its growth.
Jack Wert, Collier County's tourism director, said getting more marketing dollars is "his favorite song." He's been pushing to obtain more money locally from the county's tourist tax for year-round marketing, but more statewide marketing could also help bring in more visitors to the county, he said.
If Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, gets more money it would create more opportunities for cooperative advertising for counties across the state, Wert said.
Nancy Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, said, "Money spent to promote tourism is a solid investment."
Over the past few years, the state Legislature has increased its support of Visit Florida, which has to match its public dollars with private money. For every $1 spent on tourism marketing, Visit Florida generates more than $258 in tourism spending and $15 in new sales tax collections, paid by visitors, according to its website.
Gov. Rick Scott has echoed the importance of the tourism industry to the state's economy.
"He knows as you grow visitors you grow jobs," Wert said. "That has certainly been his platform to grow jobs in the private sector."