TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s tourism marketing agency, which has come under fire in the past year for signing a secret contract with rapper Pitbull and other expenses, was forced this week to sign a new contract with an advertising firm after a newspaper pointed out the initial contract called for advertising to potential Syrian tourists.
Visit Florida officials on Friday said a “clerical error” caused them to include Syria on a list of countries the agency planned to target in a Middle Eastern advertising campaign.
President Donald Trump included Syria, which has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State, on a list of countries covered by a temporary travel ban that has been challenged in court. Back in late 2015, Gov. Rick Scott asked Congress to block attempts by the Obama administration to relocate Syrian refugees to Florida.
Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson signed a $14,000 contract with a German advertising firm back in March that included Syria and nine other Middle Eastern countries.
After The Naples Daily News (https://goo.gl/oaeukh ) asked questions, Visit Florida signed a new contract Wednesday that listed only Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Visit Florida, said the ad firm does not do business in Syria and the state never intended to do anything that included the country.
“Visit Florida has zero marketing efforts in Syria and did not plan to market in Syria,” Tupps said.
Tupps said Syria was listed in the contract, which was also signed by a top official of the marketing firm, because someone cut and paste a list of Middle Eastern countries into the document.
The mistake comes at a critical time for Visit Florida. State legislators earlier this week approved a bill to reduce the agency’s budget from $76 million to $25 million. Scott has criticized the proposed cut and has said it could cost the state jobs. He has hinted he may veto the entire state budget because legislators ignored many of his top priorities this year.
Visit Florida in 2015 signed a secret $1 million contract with Pitbull to promote Florida that included the rapper doing a new video for his song “Sexy Beaches” touting the state’s beaches and hotels. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez, disclosed the contract after House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued to get the contract made public.
Information from: Naples (Fla.) Daily News, http://www.naplesnews.com