St. Augustine business owners watching state tourism budget fight

Trump's proposed travel ban also a concern for local businesses

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – St. Augustine and other major tourist spots in Florida are fighting for visitors and tax dollars.

Even with the recent rain, people can be seen walking the streets in St Augustine and officials there want to keep it that way, despite talk of travel bans and potential cuts to state tourism funding.

St. Johns County uses television ads to push for more business and has been working with the state for additional funding to advertise nationally through Visit Florida.

But some of that money is in jeopardy after the Florida Legislature gutted the program during the budget process.

Gov. Rick Scott, who considers tourism an essential part of Florida's economy, fought the cuts and put adding the funds back into the budget on the agenda for the Legislature's special session, which began Wednesday.

St. Augustine business owners said they are watching the fight over tourism funding closely.

“I don't think those taxes take money away from the local tax base. They add to it,” business owner Richard Pinto said. “And then I think there's a multiplication effect from the sales taxes, the bed taxes, everything that local visitors spend.”

Others said tourism promotion is important but added that there are other issues that need to be addressed, as well.

“It's very important to me, but I do feel that making sure that we have enough parking for people, the tourists that are going to come here," (is important), business owner Wendy Relph said.

The city will be discussing that issue later this week.

Another concern facing state business that rely on tourism is President Donald Trump's proposed travel ban. It's estimated that could have a $1.3 billion impact on tourism this year alone.

“I think the talk of travel bans is unfortunate, because we have so many visitors in St. Augustine from all over the world,” Pinto said. “We have people from Japan and Europe and the Middle East. People from India. We have people from Russia. I mean the numbers of different languages we hear every week walking into our shops and restaurants is really kind of staggering.”

The visitor and convention bureau declined to comment about the budget and the travel ban because both situations are so fluid right now.

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