Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Florida's Spring Break Debate & Hiaasen's Tourist Season

Spring Break!

I've previously posted about Hiaasen's take on environmental protection in Florida. Hiaasen is about to be our guide again, this time as we delve into tourism issues in the Sunshine State.

Unfortunately, there's trouble in one of America's beachy paradises. From Saturday's Florida Today article "Sparse spring break crowds worry Daytona Beach businesses:"
Some local businesses in Daytona Beach are worried they are losing much-needed revenue as spring break crowds dwindle and hundreds of thousands of tourists head to Panama City Beach. Daytona Beach was a spring break haven for college students for years, peaking in the 1980s with MTV hosting live events there and injecting an estimated $120 million into the local economy.  
 But with the booming business came tragedy. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported eight people fell off balconies, one fatally. Fights broke out and three hotels were shut down amid reports of urine, vomit and feces in the halls and stairways. Some tourism officials felt the spring break market had high risk and limited reward and scared away family vacationers. “There were many businesses that made a lot of money, but the (negative) impact on the community was too much,” said Blaine Lansberry, who owns the Best Western Plus Aku Tiki Inn and the Bahama House. “Our hotel business agreed to evolve away from spring break and focused more on families.”  
Seabreeze Boulevard used to be a popular gathering spot for college students for its bars and clubs. But now on most night, those clubs only receive sporadic business during spring break. “It’s going to fold up,” said Derrick Butler, owner of BEG4It Entertainment, referring to the businesses along the boulevard. “You already see it now, all you see is for rent signs in the windows. It’s obvious what’s happening.” The owner of Maui Nix Surf Shop, George Karamitos, says the city has turned its back on a high economic generator and hasn’t replaced it with anything. Many spring breakers now head to Panama City Beach, where tourism officials there are expecting between 250,000 to 300,000 students this year. Daytona tourism officials anticipate only 15,000 spring breakers. 

So the conflict between tourists, locals, and business owners continues in Florida. Carl Hiaasen covers all of this -- and the impact on the environment -- in his novel Tourist Season:
When the president of the Miami Chamber of Commerce is found dead inside a suitcase with his legs sawn off and a rubber alligator stuffed down his throat, news and police locals prefer to believe it's simply another typical South Florida crime. But when letters from a terrorist group, Las Noches de Diciembre, link the man's death to the disappearances of a visiting Shriner and a Canadian tourist, former newsman (now private eye) Brian Keyes intuits that someone is out to kill Florida's tourist trade. His investigation leads him to an old journalism crony obsessed with fury against the state's irresponsible development policies.

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