KISSIMMEE — Central Florida’s hospitality industry, with a friendly supporter in the governor’s office, is ready to start making political waves and letting Florida lawmakers know this industry has increasingly high expectations — in part because of the role they play in keeping the regional economy afloat.
“Tourism is the number one industry in Central Florida,” said Rich Maladecki, president of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association. “A lot of politicians don’t know that. We reinforce that one out of every four jobs here is in tourism.”
That kind of economic diversity, Maladecki said, helps keep Florida among just nine states without an income tax.
“The reason we don’t have an income tax is that we have 48 million visitors come to Central Florida, and they pay 47 percent of our sales tax,” he said.
This morning, Maladecki was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association. The two associations have very similar interests — the lodging association represents many of the hotels, resorts, and timeshares in this region, while the rental managers association represents the vacation home industry, a growing field where fully furnished houses are rented to vacationers or business travelers on a short term basis.
The two associations have such similar interests, in fact, that in February the lodging association agreed to put a member of the vacation home industry on its board of directors. Jeff Chase, the secretary for the CFVRMA, accepted that position.
“We are trying to build a bridge with the vacation industry segment, and in the last year we have done just that,” Maladecki told the rental managers during their monthly meeting, held on Thursday at the Falcon’s Fire Golf Resort in Kissimmee. “We have embraced the idea, and gone forward with having a vacation home member on our board.”
It was an idea fully embraced by the CFVRMA, said its president, Colin Young.
“It is a great organization to be a part of, and the relationship between the two organizations is still growing,” he said.
That relationship could help the logding association with one of its main missions, Maladecki said: to become a solid political force in Tallahassee, where lawmakers listen to their concerns and take their views and concerns seriously.
“We are the world’s largest regional hotel association,” he said. “We are in business because of government affairs. We are very active in the political process. We use our political contacts to get things done.”
That could include Gov. Rick Scott, whom Maladecki said he met with on Wednesday, and who he calls “the most active tourism governor I have ever seen,” eager to promote the state’s tourism industry at a time where Florida still has the burden of a double-digit unemployment rate.
“He wants to be known as the jobs governor,” Maladecki said. “I consider him the tourism governor.”
The lodging association already has a political action committee that lobbies Tallahassee, Maladecki said. They scored a critical success in this past legislative session when lawmakers passed the Tourist Safety Act, also known as the pizza flyers bill. It stiffens penalties for organized crime rings that target hotels and resorts, sending in young people to distrbute fake flyers for pizza deliveries. The flyer are often attempts to get people to call the local number and give their credit card information to the bogus pizza shop.
“We will be working with all the police and sheriff’s offices to move forward with that,” Maladecki said.
The PAC will also spend next year interviewing candidates for public office, he said, to introduce them to the industry’s concerns.
“We interview every candidate for political office,” he said. “They sit in the hot seat. In an election year like next year, we will be interviewing the candidates.”
Maladecki invited the rental managers association to put a member on the PAC, so they can take part in those interviews. This enables the vacation home industry, he said, to gets its issues in front of the political candidates.
“There’s over 25,000 time share units in Central Florida,” he said. “There’s 20,000 to 30,000 vacation rental homes in our area if you include Polk County as well. This is our opportunity to sit down and go forward with an opportunity to promote tourism.”
The vacation home industry has boomed in the past decade, particularly in Polk and Osceola counties. Northeast Polk County is now home to a fast-growing number of vacation homes — including the ones managed by Mike Eckersley, the treasurer for the CFVRMA, who operates Sunsplash Vacation Homes in Davenport. He noted that the lodging association is mainly concentrated in Orange, Seminole and Osecola counties, where most of the region’s luxury hotels are, and asked if their coverage area could be expanded into Polk as well.
“When are you going to extend your membership to Polk County?” Eckersley asked.
Maladecki said they accept members from anywhere in Florida, but don’t yet have the staff and time to interview political candidates in that county.
“If we were to expand into Polk County, I don’t know if we’d have the resources to meet with representatives from Polk County on a regular basis,” he said. “But I think that’s worth a future discussion.”
Maladecki also noted that the hospitality industry is almost certain to grow, since Orlando broke tourism records in 2010.
“The Orlando destination reached over 50 million visitors in 2010,” he said. “No other destination can say that. I congratulate you, I congratulate all of us. That’s fantastic.”
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