Meetings and hospitality industry officials in Florida are fighting a bill in the state legislature that would dissolve the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corp., or Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, which is funded through a public-private partnership. The bill would bring tourism marketing under the control of government as part of a new organization, the Jobs Florida Partnership Inc.

Richard Goldman, executive director of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, called the proposal a “misguided attempt to unify funding for job creation,” which will hurt tourism promotion in the state.

Before Visit Florida was created by the legislature in 1996, tourism promotion was handled through the Department of Commerce and was subject to the “political preferences in Tallahassee,” wrote Goldman in a letter to hospitality industry stakeholders. “The industry had no input, much less control. So the industry refused to bring private dollars to the table.”

Visit Florida created a system of private industry guidance, input, and funding. Funding comes from portions of a rental-car tax and contributions from private business. Last year, Visit Florida raised more than $40 million in private-sector matching funds. Since it was created in 1996, private industry has contributed $776 million to Visit Florida.

“That participation and the value of Visit Florida co-op opportunities for marketing tourism will go away if Visit Florida is dissolved,” wrote Goldman in the April 7 letter. In a follow-up interview, Goldman said that private industry will be reluctant to contribute funds without the authority to help guide the state’s marketing efforts. Instead, political appointees with little experience will control tourism marketing, he added.

The state senate has approved the bill and the house is expected to vote on it sometime after the Easter/Passover break. Goldman is urging tourism industry stakeholders to contact their representatives and voice their opposition. In a conference call in March attended by 71 tourism industry executives, all 71 voiced their opposition to the bill, according to the Treasure Coast Palm News.