TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Gov. Rick Scott is still pushing for 100 million tourists this year, even though lawmakers gave him less than three-fourths of the money he said was needed to reach that goal.

In announcing record first quarter tourism numbers on Thursday, Scott declared in a release that “we are off to a great start to reaching our goal of 100 million visitors to Florida this year.”

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, estimated that Florida attracted 26.7 million visitors in the first quarter of the year, a 2 percent increase from the same period a year ago.

For all of 2013, the state welcomed an estimated 94.7 million tourists, about a 3.5 percent increase over 2012.

Seeking to push the number of annual tourist above the 100 million mark, Scott had asked lawmakers to increase funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing arm, by more than $36 million, to $100 million.

Instead, as part of the proposed $77.1 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1, legislators included $74 million for Visit Florida. The budget, which passed earlier this month on the final day of the legislative session, has yet to be sent to Scott for his approval.

The funding level approved by lawmakers does represent a $10.3 million increase from the current year.

Asked if the $74 million would allow Visit Florida to do enough marketing to attract 100 million visitors, a spokesman for Scott responded in an email on Thursday that the governor “is proud to have worked with the legislature to provide record funding again this year for Visit Florida.”

Representatives for Visit Florida did not respond Thursday to requests for comment about how the additional funding would be used.

The funding for Visit Florida includes $5 million for medical tourism; $1.3 million to attract military veterans; and $500,000 to team with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to “promote Florida tourism by residents of the state.”

The new medical tourism directive gives Visit Florida $3.5 million to craft a marketing plan aimed at people seeking medical treatment, from specialized surgery to routine procedures or cosmetic surgeries, and another $1.5 million to provide matching grants to local and regional economic-development organizations that have medical tourism marketing programs.

The funding for veterans was included in the “Florida GI Bill” (HB 7015) which Scott signed March 31. Under that bill, Visit Florida is required to spend $1 million a year on marketing aimed at veterans, with another $300,000 from its funding to a new nonprofit corporation, Florida Is For Veterans, Inc.

The nonprofit, to be housed within the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, would be used to encourage veterans to move to Florida, and to promote the hiring of veterans.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.



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