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Tourism may not snap back quickly

Terrorism fears could compound the economic worries that have been slowing travel.

By J. NEALY-BROWN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001


Tourism in the Tampa Bay area is already being pinched by the national shutdown of air travel and Americans' shaken confidence after Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Some travel experts say the damage could linger long after planes resume flying.

Conventioneers and hotel guests have canceled because they can't get here from home. Cruise lines are giving passengers who can't get to the ship because of canceled flights a chance to sail another time.

"Tourism is still our No. 1 industry" and has helped cushion the national economic slowdown, said Calvin Harris, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission. "What does that mean for us economically if we can't fly people here?"

Local hotels have been getting a surge of cancellations, said Drew Toth, vice president for HelmsBriscoe, which books meetings. "The short-term effect will be felt immediately because of the impact on individual and leisure travel. Its effect only reinforces the economic negativity that exists in the marketplaces."

A convention that would have nearly filled the 390-room Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Clearwater Beach canceled Tuesday, sales and marketing director Jack Guy said. Other guests who have stayed longer than expected because they can't get flights home are keeping a positive attitude, Guy said.

Still, he is unsure about the future. "In the long term so much of it depends on what happens over the next few days. I know that certainly it's going to have an effect on people, whether they are going to take a vacation," Guy said. "I don't think as many will."

The future doesn't look promising. In a new report, PricewaterhouseCoopers said the U.S. hotel industry will now suffer its worst performance in 33 years as terrorism fears mount. Revenue per available room, a measure of demand in the industry that takes into account average occupancy and room rate, will fall 3.5 percent to 5 percent this year, the worst performance in more than three decades. Carnival Cruise Lines passengers leaving from Tampa are scheduled to go as planned, spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said.

The company determined that most passengers who leave from Tampa drive there and are not affected by the grounded airplanes, unlike some of its markets.

Some customers, she said, have been inquiring about the company's security measures.

The real concern for the tourism industry is what happens after the ban on air travel is lifted.

"There's a real period of national mourning that can extend four to six weeks," said Jim Cammisa, a Miami economist and publisher of Travel Industry Indicators. "The consumer kind of hunkers down. They are not going out, having a good time spending money."

In the long run, people will want to know if air travel is safe. "I think a lot depends on what steps are taken by airport authorities, by the airlines and by the federal government," Cammisa said. Passengers will want more than tighter restrictions, he added, suggesting a new agency be created to manage airport security.

Although the phrase "business as usual" has been tossed about as something that will happen in the next few days, Cammisa said it won't happen that quickly. He uses John F. Kennedy's assassination as an example.

"A week or 10 days the drama had to play out, as this one is following," he said. "Then after a period of two to three months, then things get back to normal."

-- Times staff writer Lisa Greene contributed to this report, which includes information from Bloomberg News. J. Nealy-Brown can be reached at nealy@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8846.

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