Florida yearns for winter tourism boost
From John Zarrella
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- George Leung said he wasn't going to let fear wash away his vacation plans.
"I just felt that I can't always be hiding," he said. "And I figure I need a vacation. So I'm taking the chance."
The New York resident and his family flew to Miami to soak up the tropical sun and dig their toes in the sands of South Beach. But there still aren't enough Leung families out there to jump-start Florida's No. 1 and most important industry: tourism.
Just ask Judith Berson, owner of the Edison Hotel on Miami's South Beach.
"We don't have heavy industry like the Northeast, and so it's very devastating when there are no tourists," she said. Berson's Edison Hotel is doing much better now than immediately after September 11, but empty tables at cafes and restaurants in the area are telling.
"Getting better" and "looking up" are the most used phrases by tourism officials across the state.
In Orlando, where hotel occupancy rates are down 12 percent from a year ago, officials say an ad campaign called "Family Time, Family Place" has been hugely successful.
The television and print ads target people living in markets close enough to Orlando that they can drive, and the $5 million campaign is paying for itself thousands of times over just in tourism increases from Miami and Atlanta, Orlando officials say.
"Those two markets combined, with that incremental level of visitation, translates to over $170 million of economic impact in our community," said Jose Estorino, senior vice president of marketing with the Orange County Visitors Bureau.
For Florida tourism, the winter months make or break the industry. The Orlando theme parks are adding hundreds of temporary workers for the holidays, expecting decent -- but not magical -- crowds.
It's still not clear what impact the September 11 events will have on the European and Latin American travelers who have to fly to get here.
But most people in the United States are expected to drive. AAA says 79 percent of Christmas and New Year's travelers will get to their destinations by car. That's up 4 percent from a year ago. And it's been the drop in gasoline prices that has fueled the modest tourist recovery.
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