Visit Sarasota County, the local destination marketing firm, will have roughly $769,000 more to spend on promotions for the current fiscal year, after a split vote from Sarasota county commissioners Wednesday.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to increase the county's contract with Visit Sarasota County to $6.36 million, with Commissioner Joe Barbetta and Commissioner Christine Robinson dissenting.
The organization, formerly known as the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, will use the additional funding to promote two events at Nathan Benderson Park, advertise at an event in a Manhatten park and bolster its website engagement, among other initiatives. The newly earmarked funds were split between leftover revenues from tourist development taxes, which are collected on short-term rentals, and unspent funds from Visit sarasota County's previous fiscal year.
"We looked at where we could get the most bang for our buck," said Visit Sarasota County Director of Brand Erin Duggan during the commission meeting. The firm is in talks with Delta Air Lines for a promotion highlighting flights from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and could sponsor a rowing regatta in Philadelphia to take advantage of a recent increase in visitors from the area.
But, Barbetta said he would prefer to see a portion of excess tourist tax revenues used for maintaining current sports facilities or creating new tourist attractions, such as a downtown aquarium, an equestrian facility in south county, or soccer and lacrosse fields.
"I'm a believer that the assets create the great place that we are and we need to expand on those assets" Barbetta said.
Commission Chairman Charles Hines said he supported more promotional spending this year due to the unexpected rowing events, but would agree for more infrastructure spending in the future.
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