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International tourism tide starting to ebb

After seven years of sizzling double-digit growth, the flow of European tourists to Florida is leveling off in 1993.

"We think it's a natural pause, a time of cooling off," said Charles Wright, director of the state Division of Tourism's international marketing program. "We still think we'll post an increase in overseas visitors in 1993. But some of our biggest international markets are flat."

State officials are blaming the recession, which has grown worse in the United Kingdom and Germany, plus the fallout from publicity over crime in Florida and the murders of several foreign tourists.

The growth of the European tourist market, which made up 16 percent of all Florida visitors and 22 of all visitor spending in 1992, sheltered Florida's biggest industry from much of the ravages of recession that has plagued the U.S. travel industry.

"International visitors literally saved us the past few years," said Barry Kinney, the state's tourism director.

The state is trying to reverse the trend by launching its first consumer advertising in Europe with a $1.5-million campaign this summer. It is distributing brochures listing tips for a safe vacation through European tour operators. And the division is passing out thick master lists of European tour operators and travel media contacts at a two-day international marketing seminar that continues here through Friday.

The effects of bad publicity over perceptions of violent crime in Florida vary from country to country. Negative press about Florida in Germany appears to have ended for now.

"But a lot of Germans coming to Florida now are avoiding Miami," said Robin Roux, the state's marketing director in Frankfurt. He is forecasting a 6 to 8 percent growth in German tourism to Florida in 1993, compared with 16 percent in 1992.

He figured Germany will rebound in 1994 when the United States is host to the World Cup Soccer tournament and the international travel industry stages two of its major conventions in Central Florida.

In the United Kingdom the tabloids still are writing about the dangers of Florida.

"It's having no effect on repeat visitors who are familiar with what Florida is like," said Colin Brodie, the division's European marketing director. "It's the first-time visitors who are the problem. A lot of people from the U.K. are starting to go to Spain again" for beach vacations.