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Government ruling allows expanded tourism funding for Florida attractions

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Florida’s government has approved changes to its tourism laws, green-lighting changes to its bed tax rules to expand use of the fund for enhancing “tourist-related business activity” beyond its usual remit.

The Tourist Development Tax (TDT) generates an estimated US$620m (€494.4m, £439m) a year for the state through a 3 to 6 per cent levy charged on visitors staying at Florida hotels.

Money generated has been previously used for tourism promotion through VisitFlorida, beach and shoreline maintenance and development of convention centres and sports venues. The amended bill now means the tax earnings can be utilised for anything that would enhance “tourist-related business activity,” including things such as transportation, waste, drainage and other infrastructure improvements.

The amendment to the bill means TDT money for any project will only be approved after an independent economic analysis shows the tourism benefits so as not to have the funds used for projects unrelated to tourism. Additionally, the amendment states that projects can only recieve up to 70 per cent of funding from the TDT.

The change also means that tourist attractions in Florida will have easier access to funds during times of crisis. Following last year’s Hurricane Irma, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage on its path, TDT regulations prevented funding for clean up and repairs on tourist attractions, such as the Indian River Lagoon, which was flooded with 3.1 million gallons sewage following the storm.

The TDT is heavily supported by Florida’s major tourist attractions, primarily its Orlando theme parks, who the city’s mayor, Buddy Dyer, called excellent “corporate citizens”, with the tax helping to generate new revenue sources.

“In Orange County the bed tax is worth US$0.06 (€0.05, £0.04) for every dollar earned. That tax generates around US$260m (€221.4m, £194.6m) a year for Orlando,” he said, speaking to Attractions Management.

“When the city built its three new venues in the Downtown area – the performing arts centre, the Amway Centre and the Camping World Stadium – about half of the US$1.2bn (€1bn, £898m) capital investment was generated through the tourism development tax.

“The tourism community have been very good corporate citizens in terms of supporting community assets for Orlando and wider Florida.”

Republican Party member Randy Fine, Florida State representative for District 53, sponsored the bill, which was adopted after a 90-23 vote in favour.

In a statement, Fine said the legislation would ensure that tourism earnings are spent on tourism-related matters, “allowing people who know how to grow tourism grow tourism.” In a Facebook post, he added that the ruling will allow Florida’s population “to hold our local politicians accountable to stop the pork-barrel projects and developer handouts”.

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Florida’s government has approved changes to its tourism laws, green-lighting changes to its bed tax rules to expand use of the fund for enhancing “tourist-related business activity” beyond its usual remit.
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