TALLAHASSEE – Visit Florida will expand its efforts to dig the state out of a COVID-19 tourism funk next week by targeting major metro areas along the East Coast to try to draw people who will drive to the Sunshine State.
As the Walt Disney Co. acknowledged plans to lay off at least 6,700 non-union workers around Orlando, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young told members of the Enterprise Florida Executive Committee on Tuesday the efforts will turn to the “drive markets that have been particularly productive for us over the past many, many years.”
That means the state tourism-marketing agency will open up the rest of a $13 million marketing plan that started just before Labor Day. The first phase of the plan has encouraged Floridians cooped up for months because of the pandemic to explore other parts of the state.
The in-state campaign has used $3.4 million of money that had been held over from the spring, when marketing efforts ground to a halt as tourism in Florida fell more than 60 percent.
More: Will Canadian snowbirds still flock to Sarasota amid COVID-19?
Young said the agency hopes to further boost the recovery campaign through an application for an $8 million federal Economic Development Administration grant that would be used to assist local direct-marketing organizations across the state.
“And then, of course, our overall marketing will be the traditional things that we do, which is winter, families, experiential adventure, travel, and all of those things,” Young said. “But they will be geared toward recovery.”
More: BACKROOM BRIEFING: Dark clouds remain over Florida tourism
Fake election updates
With vote-by-mail ballots already coming in for the Nov. 3 elections, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said a remaining concern is disinformation on social media and other platforms.
Lee said Wednesday that security has been installed and updated against Russian and other outside cyber interference. Vote-by-mail procedures have been in place for years. Even coronavirus procedures are ready at precincts, including personal protective equipment for poll workers and social distancing requirements for voters.
But bad information from outside sources worries Lee.
“This is very real. We see it all the time,” Lee told members of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors.
“When we talk about foreign interference, it’s important to distinguish between actual direct threats and attempts to intrude upon our networks and our elections infrastructure, which do occur every day,” Lee said. “But the second and different threat of interference is in the form of misinformation and disinformation. Because what we do to combat those two things is very different.”
The need to address such misinformation requires the public being educated to differentiate incorrect messages they get through social media from accurate information they get from local election officials, the Florida Department of State or federal agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, Lee said.
“If you get information in your Facebook feed that election day has been moved to Wednesday, or that your precinct is closed and you have to drive 30 minutes away, this is the type of information we want to encourage all Floridians, don’t get it anywhere but your supervisor of elections office,” Lee said. “That’s the place to go for information about your precinct and information about how to vote.”
One among 27
With voting underway in 26 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts, a handful are considered in play, but just one is deemed a toss-up by national analysts.
The District 26 seat, covering parts of Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, draws toss-up status from Roll Call, The Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Democratic incumbent Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is being challenged by Republican Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez for the district, which has flipped twice over the past decade.
Monroe County is one of four Florida counties won by President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and President Donald Trump in 2016.
In the eyes of Roll Call, other than District 26, just two seats in Florida don’t land a “solid” Republican or Democratic label.
District 16, held by Congressman Vern Buchanan and covering southern Hillsborough County, northern Sarasota County and all of Manatee County, draws a “likely” Republican. Buchanan is being challenged by state Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota.
The District 15 seat that Republican Congressman Ross Spano lost in the primary to Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin, is rated a “lean” GOP as money pours in from both sides, per Roll Call.
Democrats have their eye on District 15, with former investigative reporter Alan Cohn their candidate. The district includes parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.
The Cook Political Report has Florida a nudge more competitive. Like Roll Call, it ranks District 15 as “lean” Republican and has Buchanan’s District 16 as “likely Republican.” than other rankings.
Republicans hold 14 of the 27 seats in the congressional delegation.