Will Megastorm Sandy's impact up north spell trouble for Florida winter tourism season?
Will northerners still want to come to Florida for a winter vacation if they have to deal with scenes like this in New York City? (Photo: Richard Drew, AP)
Wake up and good morning. Let's not hit the panic button but there's an important question Tampa Bay and Florida should be asking:
If the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy is truly widespread, from the Carolinas north to New England and as far west as Ohio, will that mean many folks from that part of the country who normally come to Florida for a winter vacation may choose not to do so this year?
Yes, I know it's only October and things will look different come January, the peak season for tourism. But Florida's riding a record year of tourism and this blast from Mother Nature can hardly help. The aftermath of Sandy will be amplified in the media because it's hitting the Northeast where the country's media conglomerates are clustered. Hyper-coverage inevitably will exaggerate concerns over the expense of rebuilding and recovery.
This issue gets a good airing in this Sarasota Herald-Tribune story. "If someone's home is flooded, their priority is going to be getting their house back in order," Elliott Falcione (photo, right), executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau, told the newspaper. "That may leave them with less time or money" -- and, let me add the energy -- "to take the vacations they originally planned for."
I suppose an argument could be made that people who still have disposable income after dealing with Sandy repairs and disruption might be more motivated to warm up and get away in Florida.
Near term, the story says, Sandy did force the cancellation of a promotional visit to Sarasota by members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on a JetBlue flight for an event inside the terminal.
On the other hand, parts of Florida are walking that fine line between basic tourism promotion and looking like they are trying to profit from those suffering from Sandy's aftermath. A story in the Destin Log newspaper on the Panhandle quotes Martin Owen, regional marketing director for Wyndham Vacation Rentals: "While we are not wishing to take advantage of the misfortunes of people affected by the storm, we are making people aware that our beaches are beautiful right now for those who might want to get away from the snow."
Not to mention the flooding, downed tress, home and car damage, business disruption and commuting mess.
You can be sure that Visit Florida, which handles state tourism marketing, is feverishly meeting to see if it needs to fine tune its message to those walloped by Sandy in such a core feeder region for Florida's winter season.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times