In a survey by Orlando, Fla.-based public relations firm Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, 20% of 800 respondents say they’re less likely to visit Florida during the rest of 2004, and about 16% are less likely to come in January through March of 2005, USA Today reported.
Another 20% say they’re less likely to visit between July and September 2005.
Florida drew 74.5 million out-of-state tourists last year, and 22.2 million visited in the first quarter of 2004.
With more than half the state’s 67 counties clocking hurricane-force winds at least once this summer, the storms’ physical effects are widespread. The Pensacola and Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte region took the biggest hits. “The damage is very significant, no question about it,” Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters.
As tourism promoters in unscathed Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West scramble to reassure snowbirds that their refuges are intact, those in beach towns along portions of the state’s Panhandle, Gulf Coast and mid-Atlantic coast are grappling with shuttered hotels and dramatically altered seascapes.
About 30 miles north of the landfall for Frances and Jeanne, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort took a beating. The beachfront pier lies in a mangled heap. In one unit, a waterlogged Gideon’s Bible lies, unopened, on a bare mattress. A spokesman says the resort plans to reopen in four to six weeks.
Farther north in Daytona Beach, about 25% of rooms are out of commission. The town’s annual gathering of motorcyclists, Biketoberfest, is proceeding as planned Oct. 21, but riders will be greeted by erosion so severe that driving on the sand, a popular tradition, is now limited to fewer than half the 11 miles permitted before the storms.
Meanwhile, would-be travelers trying to get timely, accurate assessments often are met with cheery boilerplate: Daytona’s official tourist site, for example, makes no mention of damage.
“We’re in a precarious position,” concedes Tom Flanigan of Visit Florida, the state’s promotion arm. “To essentially warn people away from a destination until it’s completely ready for visitors is to jeopardize the future of that destination.
“The only thing we can do is urge people to call properties directly.”
“It’s like a scene from Jaws” with Amity’s mayor begging tourists to return, says Dick Keough, owner of Daytona’s Ocean Deck restaurant.
“The whole state is hurting, and we’ve already had four sharks roll through. Sure, we’re still here. But right now, we’re a wounded duckling.”