The Sunshine is Back
In the first half of 2017, Florida set a record by welcoming the most visitors—60.7 million—of any six months in the state’s history. And then, in September, came Irma. Winds of up to 185 mph raged for nearly 40 hours over Florida. Tens of thousands of residents fled their homes, power outages affected millions and 72 deaths in the state were attributed to this brute show of nature’s devastating force.
Yet physical damage to the tourism and meetings infrastructure was not nearly as bad as originally feared. Even the hardest-hit of the destinations, the Florida Keys, officially reopened for visitors Oct. 1. Key West’s Fantasy Fest took place later that month as usual, and the celebratory spirit of the fabled 10-day debauch was undimmed.
“I don’t think anything could stop what Key West is and what Key West does, hurricane or no,” Marky Pierson, the festival’s art director, told the Miami Herald.
As far as the state’s overall economy was concerned, Irma arriving in September, at tourism’s lowest ebb, also helped. Convention centers and many meetings venues were busier than usual—as temporary shelters for evacuees. So, too, were hotels. They housed evacuees (and their pets) as well as first responders; then the restoration crews began checking in.
It’s hard to believe that was only three months ago.
Now, Florida wants meeting planners and all potential visitors to know the sunshine is back—and the Sunshine State is ready for your return. “We’re trying to derail the notion that we’re in dire straits,” Barbara Golden, communications manager for St. Augustine, Ponte Verde & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, told Naples Daily News. Indeed, the state’s recovery and ongoing economy depend on that message being heard and heeded. While clean-up and reconstruction continue in areas, the vast majority of Florida—and especially its major meetings destinations—are again operating normally.