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Business Observer Friday, May 19, 2017 1 year ago

This is no time to cut Visit Florida's funds

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Consumer products giants know they must keep advertising or lose market share.

By John Saputo | Guest columnist

It is with grave concern I watched the Visit Florida issue unfold in our Legislature under House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The speaker found problems with the spending of the vital advertising tool that advertises Florida throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

Instead of fixing and firing the people who made poor advertising expenditures, the speaker chose to bully members of the House and disrespect the governor, who was more than willing to reform Visit Florida and punish the people making a few bad marketing decisions.

Numerous legislators remarked to me that they would not be able to help their constituents unless they voted to cut drastically Visit Florida's budget as requested by the speaker.

These legislators know that the Visit Florida advertising money is one of the life bloods of our economy. But they choose to vote to deflate the state budget for Visit Florida to keep their road projects and community center or arts funding in their districts in the budget.

I travel for my work throughout the U.S. and Europe, and I see the advertising dollars from Visit Florida in places like Cincinnati, Saginaw, Mich., Chicago, New York state, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Canada, England, Belgium, even Colorado.

The preponderance of visitors to Southwest Florida hail from all these areas with the majority of our tourism from the Midwest, Northeast and Canada. I also noticed recently on my travels that other states and tourist destinations such as Asheville, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Maryland, Las Vegas, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, California and Arizona are all advertising on TV and social media with the intent of luring away the 110 million Florida tourists.

Now is not the time to cut our Visit Florida advertising budget. Now is the time to accelerate our efforts in light of this competitive activity for our tourists.

Does the Legislature ever see market leaders such as Coke, Apple, Geico or Bud Light cut their advertising budgets? Not ever!

These companies know that to keep their products and services top of mind that they must advertise or lose market share! They know they must keep their products' sights, sounds, culture and usefulness in the “hearts and minds” of their consumers or risk losing them to their competition.

Visit Florida is the tool to use to keep Florida in this vicious fight for the “hearts and minds” of the 50 states, Canada and Europe's tourists. When these tourists visit and fall in love with Florida, they want to come here to live and buy a home. They also bring with them job skills and a work ethic that is sorely needed. My local business employs 180 people. Eighty-five percent of my associates were once tourists from the Midwest and Northeast who visited and now live and work in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Let me close by being totally transparent: Visit Sarasota helps attract 4 million tourists to Manatee and Sarasota counties. These tourists come to relax and usually enjoy themselves by buying the more than 208 beers my company sells to more than 1,600 grocery stores, convenience stores, taverns and restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee.

The tourists buying from our retail partners make up more than 35%-40% of my total beer business. Without the tourists attracted to us by Visit Florida, our economy and our opportunities would make us just another Midwest state with poor job prospects and nice sunshine.

— John Saputo, a resident of Longboat Key, is owner and CEO of Sarasota-based Gold Coast Eagle Distributing.

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