Tourism Industry to Gov: We Need Ad Money Now

Florida tourism officials told Gov. Charlie Crist in no uncertain terms Wednesday they need cash now to save the Panhandle hospitality industry that has been decimated by the threat of oil-soaked beaches that do not exist.

Visit Florida board members told the governor that $2.5 million they have readily available is not enough to mount a remedial campaign to inform tourists that Florida's beaches remain sugar-sand white. They also told Crist they can't wait for a special session to get the money they need, maybe $10 million, for an ad campaign.

Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, urged the governor to tap into a Department of Professional Regulation trust fund that she said has $12 million sitting in reserve that could be used for an advertising campaign that is essential to save Panhandle businesses that rely on summer travel to make ends meet.

"We can't wait for a year to BP to cut us a check," Dover said. "We need the money now. Yesterday was too late."

Dover said Panhandle occupancy rates had been expected to be around 90 percent this season, but have dropped to "the teens" as guests cancel reservations based, so far, on fear that beaches eventually will be oil spoiled.

Today in a letter to BP, Crist requested funds for an emergency campaign, established immediately and continuing through July, which will require an estimated $24.75 million. The Governor also requested marketing support for impacted counties, beginning in May and continuing through September, which will require an additional $10 million.

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