Dear Editor,

I realize that there is extreme pressure coming to bear on our Florida legislators to cut the state budget where ever possible. And, because of one mistake made by Visit Florida, they have become an easy target for elimination. It has been said that Visit Florida is only state welfare for large corporations like Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens & Sea World. But please, look at the sales tax dollars they generate compared to Visit Florida’s budget. Then, look at the overall effect the marketing efforts of Visit Florida have had on the livelihood of millions of Floridians over the last 50 years and, more pointedly on the citizens of Gulf County.

When St. Joe Paper Company discontinued operations in the 2000, the residents of Gulf County had to evolve into other livelihoods. The saving grace for our county was the natural resources our beaches and waterways offer that the rest of the country didn’t have, but were willing to come visit and spend their hard earned dollars to enjoy. In part, because of the efforts of Visit Florida in conjunction with the Gulf County Tourist Development Council, the rest of the world is now aware of the assets we have in our county and come here more and more each year. We’ve gone from high unemployment to a point local businesses have to actively recruit from neighboring counties to fill job openings, just as the state has had to recruit from neighboring states.

As a member of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council and the proprietor of three businesses in Gulf County, I urge you to contact your Legislators and tell them not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Are there improvements that can be made to Visit Florida; absolutely; and many have been made. I make mistakes in my businesses every day. But, I certainly don’t shut down. I learn and hopefully, continue to get better all the time. Visit Florida has been a key to growing tourism in Gulf County and the entire state. We’re not the only state or country that is vying for tourism dollars. We don’t lead the world in tourism by accident. It’s because of the decades old effort by Visit Florida in conjunction with big and small businesses. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it and certainly, don’t scrap it.

Tony Whitfield

St. Joe Beach