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Many tourism boards across the U.S. are closely watching what happens with Visit Florida's funding as CFO Hefren works to instill confidence that the organization will be more diligent with its finances.

As a funding battle rages on between Florida politicians over Visit Florida’s budget, the destination marketing organization announced this week that it hired Cynthia Hefren as its new CFO.

Hefren is the second C-suite executive appointment for Visit Florida following the departures of the organization’s previous CEO, CMO and CFO in December after Miami rapper Pitbull tweeted his $1 million contract with the organization. Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson, who was hired to replace ex-CEO Will Seccombe in January, announced Hefren’s appointment on Visit Florida’s blog this week.

Hefren had been an audit supervisor in North Carolina’s Office of the State Auditor since June 2016 and also has 22 years’ experience working in various state government roles in Florida, including the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and the Florida Department of Revenue.

In the blog post, Lawson called on industry partners for help as the state’s legislature decides the fate of the organization’s funding. Lawson said he’s asked Nelson Mongiovi, Visit Florida’s interim CMO, to meet with other Florida tourism marketing professionals to help bring changes to the organization and improve its relationship with the state legislature while growing visitation.

Nelson and his team sent a survey to more than 50 Florida tourism marketing professionals. “This survey will help us plan a roundtable discussion by way of a webinar or video conference call to discuss ideas and challenges facing our industry,” Lawson said in the post. “We will take the input received and implement new ways to serve the Florida tourism industry.”

Florida’s House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would cut Visit Florida’s annual budget by 67 percent to $25 million. Lawson said the move would cost the state tens of thousands of tourism-related jobs.

Florida’s State Senate has included $76 million in its state budget proposal for Visit Florida for the upcoming fiscal year, the amount supported by Governor Rick Scott, and negotiations in both the House and Senate are expected to drag on.

Kathy Torian, a spokesperson for Visit Florida, said the organization isn’t aware of any companion bill that’s been introduced in the Florida Senate. “Ken Lawson and our entire team will continue to communicate with the legislature to ensure they understand the value of tourism marketing and the importance of full funding for Visit Florida,” said Torian.

Tension over Visit Florida’s budget in the Florida House and Senate triggered campaigns by tourism organizations across the state promoting the necessity of allocating tourism marketing dollars. Governor Rick Scott also filmed and released this commercial last month in which he advocates for the importance of tourism marketing in Florida.

Tourism organizations across the country are watching how the Florida battle turns out.


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Tags: dmos, florida, tourism, visit florida

Photo credit: Lake Worth Beach in south Florida draws surfers because the layout of the area makes it a consistently good surfing venue. Peter W. Cross / Visit Florida

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