By Azim Saju
Throughout the year, Florida businesses welcome visitors from around the world. Tourists from near and far are enticed by everything that the Central Florida has to offer — from Alexander Springs in Ocala National Forest to cultural events at the Ocala Civic Theater.
Once they reach Florida, these visitors have an incredible economic impact, with out-of-state spending reaching a whopping $112 billion in 2016.
As the owner of over a dozen franchised hotels, I know that welcoming travelers to Florida impacts our entire community in ways you might not realize at first. An increase in visitors means not only that hotels will hire more staff, but that businesses around the hotel will be full of guests shopping, grabbing a bite to eat, or renting a jet ski for an afternoon excursion on Lake Weir.
Visitor spending has even provided more than $300 million for additional police officers, firefighters, and teachers through added tax revenue.
Locally owned franchises are Florida’s hidden small businesses. While franchised brands are known globally for their value and service, they are locally owned and operated, which creates jobs right here in our community. And together, Florida franchises employ over half a million workers.
Simply put, Florida tourism means jobs and opportunity for small businesses.
Last year, Florida set a record by welcoming 126 million out-of-state visitors. However, despite this incredible record, the number of overseas visitors coming to the state has actually dropped.
Floridians know that economic growth through tourism is not only enviable, but necessary. But in order to continue that level of growth, we need to ensure that federal policies adequately promote legitimate, secure international travel to the United States.
In 2009, Congress passed the Travel Promotion Act, which created a public-private partnership named Brand USA to entice international travelers to the U.S. by highlighting why it is a premier travel destination. Brand USA is funded by a fee paid by international travelers, which is then matched by private industry.
Brand USA does not cost taxpayers a penny, but it has generated nearly $18 billion in visitor spending, strengthening businesses everywhere, including across Florida. However, Brand USA is at a critical juncture and must be reauthorized by Congress to ensure its success.
Earlier this year, the International Franchise Association and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association joined nearly 600 businesses and organizations whose success are tied to travel and tourism and urged Congress to reauthorize Brand USA. Through a letter led by the Visit U.S. Coalition, we showed the breadth of businesses who rely on tourism to thrive — including hotels, attractions, retail stores, and more.
Florida’s economy depends on tourism. As Congress works through its legislative agenda this year, it is vital that Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott help push Brand USA reauthorization to the top of that list.
Because enticing the global community to visit Florida means business for our community.
Azim Saju is the vice president and general counsel for HDG Hotels, which owns and operates hotels throughout Central and North Central Florida.