Ken Lawson, Visit Florida's president and CEO
The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would cut Visit Florida's budget by 67 percent, cap salaries at the agency and increase transparency of the DMO's spending. Visit Florida's president and CEO Ken Lawson immediately responded to the measure with a statement to members: "As I have said many times, we believe in transparency and accountability at Visit Florida. However, the bill passed today by the Florida House of Representatives, HB 9, would limit Visit Florida's ability to successfully market our state. Although this bill passed the House, there is currently no companion in the Florida Senate and, rest assured, your voices are being heard. Florida's tourism industry continues to demonstrate its influence in Tallahassee, and I commit to you that we will not quit fighting."
Lawson also released the following statement to the press: "At Visit Florida, we are laser-focused on transparency and accountability. However, HB 9 unnecessarily grows government regulation to limit our ability to attract visitors. This bill jeopardizes the record-breaking success of Florida's tourism industry and the 1.4 million jobs the industry supports. Together, alongside our strong, engaged industry, we will work tirelessly with the Florida House and Senate to advance meaningful reform. We have already made significant progress toward transparency by placing contracts and staff salaries online, and conducting a thorough audit of all agreements to ensure that there will be no more secret deals at Visit Florida, and that we get the best return on investment for Florida's taxpayers."
As a next step, Lawson urged Visit Florida members to participate in Florida Tourism Day at the state capitol tomorrow, March 14. "Nearly 600 of you have already made plans to attend, and we are ready to welcome you to Tallahassee with a strong lineup of speakers, legislative meetings and events. If you have not already registered, you can still do so on-site Tuesday morning at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. We will continue to fight this job-killing bill, and your help at Tourism Day to let your voices be heard is vital to our success."
HB9, which was introduced last month, was spurred by revelations that the agency had penned a million-dollar marketing deal with rapper Pitbull
, who produced a controversial video to promote the state, and several other big-budget marketing deals. That controversy led to the dismissal of several top Visit Florida officials and the resignation of former CEO Will Seccombe; Lawson took over the top post in January.