Tourism-friendly policies from D.C. can grow Florida
As our re-elected and newly elected lawmakers take office, we hope they will continue to support Florida's largest industry and the lifeblood of our state: travel and tourism.
The stakes are enormous because Florida's top industry has tremendous reach. Last year, our state saw a whopping $89.1 billion in spending as a result of travel. This has allowed businesses to thrive, wages to increase and the economy to grow. Travelers to Florida added $12.3 billion in tax revenue, which allows our communities to invest in infrastructure and community necessities for our own residents, such as schools and public safety.
In Central Florida, the economic impact and presence of tourism cannot be overstated. In fact, travel supports 40,000 jobs for Osceola County residents. Even if you don't have a travel job, tourism still benefits you by saving each resident $900 in taxes each year.
The best news? We are poised for growth. The first quarter of 2016 was record-breaking, as measured in visitors and dollars spent.
We need policies in Tallahassee and Washington that enable tourism's continued growth.
During the election season, travel leaders throughout the state met with the presidential campaigns, congressional candidates and elected officials at the local level to reinforce our commitment to growing our industry and Florida's economy. We also discussed ways lawmakers can promote policies that will unleash the full potential of our industry, including infrastructure investment for our airports.
Air travel throughout the U.S. is expected to grow by over 2.2 percent year over year, but our nation's airports lack the financial controls to invest locally to meet this demand. The result? A lack of competition and cash-strapped airports barely able to meet demand, particularly at peak holiday times when travel to our state surges.
We must work with Congress to allow airports more financial flexibility to expand and modernize by adjusting the Passenger Facility Charge.
One way to spur economic growth for Florida is to increase international visitation. Foreign travelers to our state annually account for $15.8 billion in spending.
We are asking Congress to support policies that position the U.S. to compete in the international traveler marketplace, whether it is through supporting Brand USA, which markets U.S. tourism abroad, or supporting Open Skies aviation policies that helped Orlando International Airport secure the new Emirates flight from Dubai. These policies would not only increase the visibility of Florida's destinations and amusements, but also help local citizens connect to the world easier and cheaper.
We are all connected to tourism, and policy in Washington and Tallahassee can continue to support its growth.
DT Minich is Experience Kissimmee's chief executive officer and president.