What's the word on the Suncoast? The word is "hola", which means hello in Spanish, and if you're in a tourist-oriented industry you'd best learn it.
Louise Cernak, whose Pinellas/Tampa Bay Tourist Guides have been used by the Chamber of Commerce since 1987, began with French and English. Three years later, the maps, attraction information and coupons also were translated in German.
Now Spanish will be included in the languages used, in deference to the many Latin American tourists visiting the area.
The chamber does not keep statistics about which countries tourists come from, director of tourism Nancy Watts said. But 28 percent of St. Petersburg's tourists are from other countries.
"The Latin American market is opening wide. This area is just now recognizing it countywide," Ms. Watts said. It comes at a good time, she said, because the Canadian market is down, "and the European market will come around but probably not until 1996."
And the chamber, of course, is doing its part by focusing on Latin American countries, entertaining their travel agents and working with airlines to open new flights to the countries.
Although Ms. Watts does not know how many of Mrs. Cernak's guides the chamber uses, "We get them by the caseload." Mrs. Cernak, with her husband John, publishes and distributes 100,000 of the guides to chambers, large hotels and welcome centers each year. They are free to such groups and are paid for with advertising revenues.
Carole Ketterhagen, director of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area Convention and Visitors' Bureau, said other material the bureau hands out has just been printed in Spanish.
"We've gotten as many as 10 requests a day from travel agents for material in Spanish," Ms. Ketterhagen said. "Our visitors guide, travel agent directory and also rack brochures for the first time this year will be in Spanish, and the rack brochures will also be in Portuguese. It's just a logical next-step market focus."
County statistics don't show the breakdown as to country either, but they do show 859,060 visitors from Europe last year, up 1.8 percent from the previous year.
"But as we know, this year the European market has declined," Ms. Ketterhagen said. Figures on this will not be tallied until the year's end. The number of Canadian visitors countywide decreased 10 percent last year, but domestic visitors were up, "so we ended up 1.7 percent up over '92."
Betty Blanks, administrator for the St. Petersburg Chamber's information booth at The Pier, might be classified as the front line in tallying tourists.
"We're definitely seeing more tourists from Argentina and Brazil," she said. "They are the two I noticed most when they were having the soccer games, but since then it's continued. In fact, we had a big group yesterday from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and another one from Argentina."
Visitors to her first-floor booth come from all over the world, she said. "We get people from Wales, Yugoslavia, Germany, quite a number from Italy recently. We had some from Estonia last week." Of the 12,058 who signed her register last month, 3,093 were foreign.
"It's time we got the Spanish," she said. "We've needed it a lot."