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Lodging, restaurant groups may unite

Published September 9, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Hotel and Motel Association has fallen on hard times and may merge with the Florida Restaurant Association.

The hotel group, established in 1912, recently changed its name to Florida Lodging Association and canceled its annual trade show in Orlando as part of a restructuring plan.

The changes have prompted some complaints from vendors who say they paid close to $2,000 to participate in the Sept. 22-24 conference at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort and have been unable to get anyone at the hotel association to discuss refunding their deposits.

The hotel association owns Hospitality Square, a landmark headquarters building near the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.

Edwin L. Griffin Jr., president of the association since the retirement of longtime president Thomas A. Waits in December 2004, was in Orlando on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

But such a union would mark a major change in relations between groups that have not always seen eye to eye.

They warred in the past over how much of the restaurant business is part of the tourist industry.

Hotels, which bankroll a lot of the state's tourist promotion through a tax applied to hotel bills, have lobbied for years to get restaurants to support new taxes on restaurant bills to help pay for tourist advertising. The restaurant association fought the idea.

Carole Dover, executive director of the Florida Restaurant Association, said her board of directors will consider the merger issue at a meeting in Orlando today.

If the restaurant group approves, a joint task force from the groups will meet on Saturday to take a closer look at the merger.

Dover said some states operate a joint association, but Florida would become the only large state to operate jointly.

"We have a lot of common issues and I already have a lot of hotels in my association," Dover said.

Florida tourism was up about 7 percent in Florida in 2004 despite last year's hurricanes, according to Visit Florida Inc., the statewide tourist marketing agency.

The restaurant association's annual trade show opens this weekend in Orlando with 26,000 participants and about 1,300 vendors at the Orange County Convention Center.

Dover said the hotel association was only able to sign up about 83 vendors. She urged those seeking refunds to be patient and await the outcome of negotiations with the restaurant association.

"I will try and work with them," Dover said. "It's not my problem, but I appreciate their situation."

[Last modified September 9, 2005, 01:17:10]

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