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Local tourism leaders say shutdown of 'Visit Florida' would hurt economy

Posted: 7:32 PM, Apr 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-26 12:33:50Z
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PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — It was a calm day on the West Palm Beach waterfront, but at the Visitor Information Center it was a different story.

"It's definitely been a little high stressed," said Kami Kreaps, a manager at the center which offers water activities for tourists.

She says recent news that the Legislature might shut down Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency has local businesses worried.

"If we decline in business, then our staff declines which ultimately means that we have to lay staff off if that happens," Kreaps said.

According to Visit Florida, when their funding was increased to $76 million in 2018 the state saw a record-breaking 126.1 million visitors. Glenn Jergensen Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Tourism Council says their marketing efforts have a big impact on our area.

"This is all about jobs, this is your neighbors, my neighbor's people that work in this industry not only in the tourism industry but in the construction industry," Jergensen said.

Jergensen says in 2018 the county saw record-breaking tourism numbers as well. He says the increase in visitors leads to new hotels and tourist attractions.

"We have over 2,000 rooms right now being built in Palm Beach County," he said. "New hotels that are going in play. We've built stadiums in Palm Beach County with tourism development taxes. We wouldn't of been doing that and creating those construction jobs without tourists."

Funding for the state agency is set to expire Oct. 1. Earlier in the legislative session, senators passed a bill that extended that date and put $50 million in its budget.

However, House leaders have so far ignored that bill and many are skeptical about using tax dollars to support the tourism industry. But in Martin County tourism leaders say they need Visit Florida's help.

“Is it a hurricane, is it blue-green algae, is it red tide? There’s all these negative perceptions out there. You really need the funding available to change market perception," Nerissa Okie, Tourism and Marketing, Martin County said.