Tourism officials worry new Sun 'N Fun partnership will encourage visitors to stay out of town

Sun 'N Fun signed deal with Experience Kissimmee

LAKELAND, Fla. - The annual Sun 'N Fun Fly-in in Lakeland may have ruffled the feathers of its biggest sponsor, Visit Central Florida.

Last year, Visit Central Florida pumped more than $50,000 into the event the that draws more than 200,000 people to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

But Sun 'N Fun recently finalized a new partnership with tourism agency in Osceola County called Experience Kissimmee.

A video on the group's website encourages visitors to stay in Kissimmee during the fly-in instead of Polk County.

"It's certainly a concern because the sponsorship or partnership with Sun 'N Fun is based on overnight stays in Polk County hotels and that's what we want to protect," said Mark Jackson, director of Visit Central Florida.

John Leenhouts, head of Sun 'N Fun, said the new partnership will offer more exposure and will draw more people to Polk who will spend more money.

"They have got to buy gas. They're going to buy groceries. They're going to buy souvenirs. They're going to go to restaurants. They're going to pay tolls. They're going to be all over the place putting money in here," Leenhouts said.

They may spend locally, but if they don't stay here overnight, then the event's top sponsor loses revenue from the so-called bed tax collected at local hotels.

"What caught us off guard was one of our longest and best partners didn't communicate that they were finalizing a deal," Jackson said.

He plans to meet with Sun 'N Fun leaders in the coming days to iron out things.

Leenhouts said he understands Jackson's concerns, but said they weren't going to turn away a new sponsor.

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