With the state attracting record numbers of tourists from other parts of the country as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young received an 8.6% pay raise Thursday.
“I look forward to continuing to work with all of you and hope that in the future we don’t face the challenges as an organization, as a state or as a world that we have faced over the past few years,” said Young, a former State Representative from Tampa, said during a travel agency board meeting at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes hotel.
Young, who has led Visit Florida since 2019, turned down an 8% pay raise and a $7,500 bonus from the board last year. She agreed to a pay raise on Thursday.
Outgoing Visit Florida chairman Danny Gaekwad noted Young’s rejection of the 2021 offer before calling on the board of directors to increase Young’s annual salary from $175,000 to $190,000.
“In her opinion, despite the amazing progress Florida has made in its recovery from the pandemic, especially compared to our competitors, there is still a lot of work to be done on behalf of our industry,” Gaekwad said. “And she just didn’t feel like accepting any additional compensation at the time.”
Its Visit Florida website says that the salaries of the four executives, including Young, come from public and private money, with taxpayers covering $120,000 each.
Board member Lino Maldonado said Young is “grossly underpaid” by industry standards.
“There are medium and small companies that have marketing managers, directors who actually get paid more,” Maldonado said.
While international travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the state attracted 35.982 million visitors in the first quarter of 2022. This is more than the same period before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the hospitality and leisure industry.
“Two years ago everything was dark and doomed, and now last year was the best in history,” Gaekwad said. “We have just completed the third consecutive quarter with total visits above (the) pre-pandemic levels and are seeing 12 solid months of domestic visitor growth, making calendar year 2021 the best domestic visitor year ever.”
However, travel from other countries is delayed. During the first quarter of 2022, the state attracted 1.323 million visitors from overseas and 578,000 people from Canada. In 2019, the state had just over 2.45 million foreign tourists and 1.022 million Canadians each quarter.
In a record state budget of $109.9 billion, which is the governor. Ron DeSantis signed last week that Visit Florida will receive $50 million in advertising for the fiscal year beginning July 1st.
The agency has received $80 million for the current fiscal year, including $30 million in federal stimulus money.
Also Thursday, the board named Greg Cook, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, as chairman to replace Gaekwad.