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TOURIST TAXES NOT HELPING FLORIDA COUNTER COMPETITION

 TOURIST TAXES NOT HELPING FLORIDA COUNTER COMPETITION
 TALLAHASSEE, Fla., June 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Less than a third of the


money raised by local taxes on tourists is actually spent to encourage more visitors to Florida, the president of the Florida Tourism Association (FTA) said today. Participants in Florida's 13th Annual Economic Development Workshop were told that, as the state is losing ground in the highly competitive world tourism marketplace, an overhaul of the way promotional funds are generated is overdue.
 Speaking on the first day of the three-day workshop at Florida State University, FTA President John E. Evans said that reports from 37 counties which collect so-called "bed taxes" enacted with the intent of attracting more visitors to their areas showed that, although $153.2 million was generated by these taxes, only $48.3 million was spent on what the counties defined as "tourism advertising and promotion." "That only 31.58 percent of these dollars went to attract visitors to Florida was almost certainly a factor in Florida hosting fewer visitors last year than the year before, reversing nearly two decades of yearly increases," Evans said. "It is also an indicator of how badly counties need funds to provide the facilities and services that make them attractive to visitors once they arrive."
 The FTA president said that the local option taxes, applied mainly to hotel and motel rooms occupied by visitors, have been opened to many uses beyond the promotion they were intended to provide. "These taxes have been amended more than 37 times and the definitions of permissible uses leave loopholes you could drive a tour bus through," he said. "The whole question of how areas promote themselves needs to be separated from how we meet other legitimate needs before we find ourselves playing catch-up against other states and nations which recognize the importance of tourism to their economies." As much as 100 percent of the local taxes in some counties goes to pay off bonds used to build baseball stadiums, convention halls and arenas. Other uses include beach improvements and the funding of arts activities and special events.
 "In Florida, where tourism is the number one contributor to our general revenues, number one source of jobs, and provides major enhancements to our quality of life, familiarity has begun to breed contempt for visitors and we have come to take them and their spending for granted," Evans said. He said a joint legislative committee organized last week to look at local option tourist taxes "has a great opportunity to refocus the current taxes to the marketing of regions that they were initially intended to fund, and finding other revenue sources to fund the improvements communities need to stay competitive." The committee, chaired by House Tourism Chairman Alzo J. Reddick, plans to hold hearings around Florida during the summer and fall and recommend possible revisions in the laws on local option tourist taxes to the 1993 Legislature.
 -0- 6/22/92
 /CONTACT: John E. Evans of the Florida Tourism Association, 904-239-9759/ CO: Florida Tourism Association ST: Florida IN: SU: ECO


JB-AW -- FL013 -- 2528 06/22/92 16:00 EDT
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Date:Jun 22, 1992
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