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Thriving Florida tourism impervious to anger over Stand Your Ground law

Even before jurors reached a verdict in Florida vs. Michael Dunn, who said he killed a black teenager in Jacksonville in self-defense last year, people took to social media to bash Florida and call again for a boycott of the Sunshine State.

"Tell everyone you know to vacation somewhere else," wrote Twitter user Mary Graham of Michigan. "Only MONEY will change the stand your ground laws!"

"If Florida somehow screws up the #DunnTrial then I propose an economic boycott of the state. Pathetic," wrote user Matthew Gregson of North Carolina.

The protests resemble efforts after a jury last year decided George Zimmerman was defending himself when he shot teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Last year, a variety of musicians, celebrities and politicians — from Stevie Wonder to the California Legislative Black Caucus — called for boycotts until Florida changed its controversial "stand your ground" law.

But such boycotts appear to have had little, if any, effect on tourism here. Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that preliminary estimates from VISIT FLORIDA show more people visited in 2013 than ever before. Some 94.7 million visitors came, a 3.5 percent increase over 2012.

Experts have pointed out that it would take a large and organized international boycott to put a dent in such a large number of Florida tourists. And that's a challenge when 49 of 50 states — all but Florida — had snow on the ground this week.

"Other than for, I presume, primarily African-American and minority communities who might be highly sensitive to this, I would not expect it to have much of an impact because the driving forces for tourism are the weather and the recovering economy," said Stephen Holland, professor of tourism, recreation and sport management at the University of Florida. "I would hesitate to say they would have no impact, but I would predict a relatively small impact because of those other driving factors."

Tourism here fell off dramatically in the early 1990s, after the high-profile murder of a German tourist in Miami and the slaying of two British tourists by youths at an Interstate 10 rest stop near Monticello. And the city of Miami lost millions in 1990 when black lawyers called for conventions to boycott the city until local leaders apologized for not welcoming Nelson Mandela during a visit.

Despite Jesse Jackson suggesting a similar boycott after the Zimmerman verdict, there has been no direct fallout.

"We heard a little bit about it, but there's been no noticeable impact," said Gwen Wilson, spokeswoman for the Orange County Convention Center. "Nothing at all."

In 2005, just after the "stand your ground" bill was signed into law, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ran ads in European newspapers warning tourists about what they called the "shoot first law" and handed out fliers at Miami suggesting visitors should "not argue unnecessarily with local people."

A spokeswoman for the group says it's now focused on expanding background checks to include online and gun show sales and getting parents to ask kids if there's a gun in the house where the child plays.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650.

Thriving Florida tourism impervious to anger over Stand Your Ground law 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:10pm]
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