Visit Florida lays off one-third of employees

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Nearly a third of the state’s primary tourism marketing agency’s staff were given pink slips on Thursday. The employees were collateral damage in a political battle over the future of the agency.

Visit Florida laid off nearly a third of its employees on Thursday as a result of recent budget cuts. (Visit Florida)

Employees at Visit Florida’s Tallahassee headquarters were told in an email not to comes to work on Thursday. Instead, 44 employees were told to arrive for a meeting to discuss their futures and to bring any Visit Florida property with them.

The layoffs were of no fault of the employees themselves. It’s the result of a $26 million cut to Visit Florida’s funding.

It was a compromise between the House, which wanted to kill the agency altogether, and the Senate, which wanted to fully fund Visit Florida at $76 million.

“With all the back and forth in the legislative session, people's lives are being affected,” said marketing strategist Trimmel Gomes.

Governor Ron DeSantis helped fight for the compromise, but said he’s open to reforming the agency.

“I didn't think letting it run aground now would have been the right thing for the state. It's going to be something we're going to have to look at,” said Governor Ron DeSantis in May.

Visit Florida CEO Dana Young said in a statement, “Our ultimate responsibility is to manage the tax dollars invested in our organization as effectively as possible while still working every day to promote and support Florida’s tourism industry and the revenue that it generates. While this reduced budget will require significant changes in our marketing approach, we are confident that we can continue to deliver a great value for Floridians with the funding provided.”

Visit Florida had been funded at about $75 million for the past five years. Before that, it received $50 million a year.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association told us during last year’s budget battle tourism numbers had skyrocketed when funding for the agency increased.

“Soon to be 120 million visitors. That is directly correlated back to the amount of money we're spending on advertising,” said Carol Dover with Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in February of 2018.

However, Gomes said the cuts could result in more efficient spending by the agency, which has traditionally spent big dollars on television ad buys.

“Now they'll be streamlining and looking at digital ads to market to the rest of the world,” said Gomes.

The employees that are left will return to work Friday, but their jobs aren’t necessarily safe.

It’s likely another funding battle will play out in the 2020 legislative session.