Experts panic over Florida tourism as major conventions flee state’s 'unfriendly political environment'

Experts panic over Florida tourism as major conventions flee state’s 'unfriendly political environment'
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 (Creative Commons)

Convention organizers are pulling out of Florida, which is devastating knock-on tourism and causing panic over the future of the industry, experts warned in a report Friday.

When asked for a reason why they were scrapping plans, one organizer wrote simply: “Governor DeSantis.”

More than half a dozen planned conventions in Broward County, which encompasses the Fort Lauderdale area, have been scrapped in recent months, according to a list drawn up by the county’s tourism promotion group Visit Lauderdale and reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“We lost this program due to political climate,” Visit Lauderdale notes on a decision by the Supreme Council of America Inc., Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite Masons to cancel its meeting, planned for August next year. It also canceled 855 hotel rooms

Thousands of dollars are also being lost by restaurants and attractions by visitors going elsewhere.

“We were so close on this one,” read another note on the cancellation of the 2024 National Family and Community Engagement and Community Schools Conference – it also pulled out of more than 2,000 hotel rooms.

Read more: GOP scrambling to keep Freedom Caucus 'bomb thrower' from costing them a Senate seat: report

“Group decided to pull out of Florida due to concerns about what the Governor is doing in the education/schools and that he will likely run in 2024. They do not want to lose attendees due to this.”

Stacy Ritter, president of Visit Lauderdale, told the Sun Sentinel, “It’s not directed at South Florida. We’re not doing anything different than we’ve been doing for the last 30 years.

“From an economic standpoint, this is very harmful," she explained. "We saw in 2020 what happens when visitors stay away — people lose their jobs. By not coming here, the residents of our county, whose values align with these organizations, get hurt. Minority, women and LGBTQ+ businesses rely on visitors for their existence. Staying away hurts those very people.”

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association had planned a 3,000-person conference in 2026 but is instead headed to Milwaukee.

In a note to Visit Lauderdale, it’s spokesperson Beth Miller cited the “unfriendly political environment in Florida.”

“This would otherwise be such a fabulous destination for the group. I sure hope things become less polarizing soon,” she said.

The effect on tourism has been seen across Florida, the Sun Sentinel reported.

A DeSantis spokesperson told the Sun Sentinel the cancelations were “nothing more than a media-driven stunt.”

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