Visit Florida Faces More Fallout Over $1M Promotional Contract With Rapper Pitbull

Visit Florida, the state's tourism board, remains under fire for it controversial $1 million promotional contract with rapper Pitbull, which led to Gov. Rick Scott's call for the resignation of CEO Will Seccombe in a Dec. 16 letter. Now, according to M&C's sister publication Travel Weekly, Visit Florida's board plans to develop a transition plan for the expected departure of Seccombe during its Jan. 10 meeting. In addition, Florida House of Representatives speaker Richard Corcoran has threatened not to fund the quasipublic agency in next year's budget; Visit Florida is receiving $78 million from the state in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Under the controversial deal, the rapper agreed to feature Visit Florida's Twitter hashtag on video screens at his concerts, as well as on his 2015 New Year's Eve special from Miami that was broadcast on Fox. He also committed to filming the video for his single "Sexy Beaches" exclusively on Florida sands. When Visit Florida, citing proprietary information, refused last March to reveal the financial details of that contract, Gov. Scott ordered an audit of the agency. Auditors found no wrongdoing, although they did recommend that Visit Florida staffers adhere to state standards on travel per diems. The controversy was reignited in July with the release of the "Sexy Beaches" video, which featured bikini-clad models and provocative lyrics.

"The lyrics are over-the-top, degrading and horrible," Corcoran (R-37th district), who represents Land O' Lakes, wrote in a Dec. 20 blog post. "They certainly don't represent the family-friendly state of Florida." His post followed the suit he filed Dec. 13 on behalf of the Florida House against Pitbull's PDR Productions in an effort to get permission to release the terms of the contract. On Dec. 15, Pitfall released a link to the $1 million contract to a Twitter post that said, "Full Disclosure."

The following day, Gov. Scott called for Seccombe's resignation in a letter in which he demanded that the agency publish its salaries, contracts and audits, among other documents. The letter led to the termination of Visit Florida marketing director Paul Phipps and CFO Vangie Fields. 

Corcoran can expect heavy pushback on any effort to leave Visit Florida in the lurch when the Florida Legislature convenes for its March and April session. Scott, for one, has been a big supporter, signing off on budgets that between 2011 and 2016 increased the state's share of funding for the destination marketing organization from $35 million to $78 million. Florida saw its estimated numbers of visitors increase from 87.3 million in 2011 to 105 million in 2015.

"It is imperative that Visit Florida continue its mission of promoting the state to keep this momentum going," Scott wrote in his Dec. 16 letter.