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Slow Progress Ahead for Palm Beach County, Florida
 Tourism Due to Hurricane Jeanne
By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 28, 2004 - Prospects for tourism businesses in Broward and Palm Beach counties are increasingly diverging in the wake of Hurricane Jeanne.

While Broward was basically open for business on Monday, large swaths of Palm Beach County remain without electricity, and some resorts and hotels are again saddled with water damage and a laborious cleanup.

Closed for 20-days after Hurricane Frances, The Breakers resort in Palm Beach reopened Sept. 22 only to close again four days later.

Neither county was hit nearly as hard as other areas of the state, including Punta Gorda by Hurricane Charley, Pensacola by Hurricane Ivan, or the Stuart-Fort Pierce-Vero Beach area by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

Unlike those areas, both counties should be largely ready for the most lucrative part of the tourism year, which starts in late November.

"The great thing is people have very short memories," said Mac McLaughlin, president of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Still, hotels in Palm Beach County, especially in the northern third of the county, have lost the better part of a month that many lodgings use to spruce up, make routine repairs and hire and train staff for the winter season.

The storms also curbed advertising of the area to potential tourists. "Any advertising that was going to take place before the storm hit didn't run," said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said the bureau would wait to advertise until it was clear rooms are available. "We've still got a lot of people in our hotels," he said, including displaced residents, insurance adjusters, power crews and federal emergency workers.

In Broward, on the other hand, tourism promotion is on the front burner. On Wednesday, the visitors bureau will sponsor a breakfast for three DJs from XM Satellite Radio. They will do a two-hour remote show from Shula's restaurant on Fort Lauderdale beach broadcast via satellite to some of XM's 2.1 million subscribers.

"That's our first real big opportunity to show America that we're fine here," said bureau communications vice president Francine Mason.

On Sept. 30, the bureau will host a lunch for about 400 hotel operators at the Broward County Convention Center to showcase its plan to market the area in 2004-05.

Mason said Hurricane Jeanne mainly hurt landscaping at area hotels. "This one did not damage any infrastructure in Broward County," she said.

To the north, President Bush declared Palm Beach County a federal disaster area. In a statement the visitors bureau said "a majority" of its 200 hotels are open. It said it would post a list of the open hotels on its Web site today. In the southern part of the county, the Boca Raton Resort & Club re-opened Monday with minimal damage, spokeswoman Anne Hersley Hankins said.

McLaughlin said that if Palm Beach County bookings are weak this fall, the bureau could shift its spending priorities to come up with emergency ad funds. It budgets about $1.8 million a year for advertising.

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