TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The state's tourism bureau chief said Monday she expected to beat recovery expectations after the economic shutdown of 2020 delivered a gut punch to the state's largest industry.
Dana Young, president and CEO of Visit Florida, told a Senate panel Monday that an economists' estimate of a 2024 full-recovery date for tourism is "unacceptable."
"My goal is to get Florida on top as soon as possible," Young said. "That 2024 projection is hogwash. That is unacceptable, and we don't accept it."
Young vowed to do better and presented data showing the state is already on the right track. Heavy investment in ads targeting domestic travelers over the last year, Young said, had yielded success.
Quarter two of this year had 31.7 million visitors, a 223 percent increase from 2020. Domestic visitors were up 6 percent over 2019.
The international market is still a struggle, however. COVID-19 restrictions are to blame for the slow return of overseas travelers.
Visit Florida has countered by hammering Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Germany with ad campaigns to put the Sunshine State top of mind when borders fully reopen.
"We are not looking back," Young said. "We are aggressive, unapologetic and we are moving forward."
Young also asked lawmakers to extend Visit Florida's life. Current law has the organization sunsetting in 2023.
State Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, said the pandemic had proven Visit Florida's value. He planned to offer a bill to push back the date until 2031 and give the group an annual budget of at least $50 million.
"Compared to 49 other states, we are the shining star," Hooper said. "If eight years is the number we can get passed — then that's the number we're going to try to get to the governor."
House members have previously tried to eliminate Visit Florida, questioning its need. While the calls have gotten quieter recently — anything can happen when the lawmaking session kicks off in January.