Put an end to tourism blacklisting (Sen. Bill Nelson)

Tourism is a vital part of my state’s economy, and I know that many Florida cities offer some of the finest, most competitive prices on hotels and conference facilities. That’s why I was stunned when I found out some federal agencies might be blacklisting Florida cities for travel and conferences because of their proximity to vacation destinations.

Talk about a double-whammy in tough economic times that have seen tourism and business travel dropping like a rock.

Look, it’s one thing to avoid non-essential trips to save taxpayers money. I can understand that. But like I told an Associated Press reporter, “It’s another thing if it’s legitimate travel and you then avoid certain cities just because of where they are.”

The hotel industry in Florida is already facing a decline without the government’s help. Orlando hotels are filling only 64.8 percent of their rooms. Compared with a year ago, that’s a decline of 7.8 percent.

So I’ve drafted legislation to make it illegal for federal government agencies to design travel policies that blacklist certain U.S. cities simply because they’re seen as tourism spots. I’m happy to say there’s a solid team of House members from Florida and Nevada ( home of Las Vegas ) who agree with me on this issue.

The eight of them sent a letter Thursday to the acting U.S. comptroller asking for an investigation of policies used to determine where to hold meetings. My Senate colleague from Florida Mel Martinez has done likewise.

Working together, we ought to be able to put an end to any such practice.

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