|By Douglas Hanks, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 9, 2008 - --Fay, Gustav and Ike aren't expected to chase off hotel bookings in South Florida the way hurricanes Charley through Wilma did three years ago.
Hotel executives and others said this year's active hurricane season -- with three named storms threatening Florida as they emerged from the Atlantic -- so far hasn't even approached the marketing disaster brought on by the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
"The key here is there hasn't been a storm that caused a lot of damage in Florida," said Walter Banks, owner of the Lago Mar resort in Fort Lauderdale.
That wasn't the case in 2004 and 2005, which saw Florida cities take big hits from hurricanes -- including the wallop South Florida suffered in October 2005 from Wilma.
"After 2005, it took a couple of years to come back," he said.
"We saw a major concern from people booking meetings. The overseas bookings dropped off dramatically for August and September the following year."
Aside from actual damages to hotels and attractions, tourism officials worry about the media coverage a hurricane brings -- particularly in overseas markets, which tend to lump all Florida cities together.
Despite the footage of tourists clearing out of Key West for Fay and Ike, the 2008 hurricane season so far hasn't unfolded as the kind of Florida storm saga that 2004 and 2005 brought.
"We've been checking with our folks in the [United Kingdom] and Europe," said Andy Newman, head of public relations for the Keys tourism bureau. "There was some stuff about Fay, not a lot. There was nothing about Gustav whatsoever. . . . It's a story, but not top of mind. Nothing like 2004 and 2005."
Tourism marketers were quick to point out that it's too early to judge the impact of the 2008 season, which ends Dec. 1.
And with Hurricane Ike heading toward the Gulf Coast, others note that Florida doesn't stand out as a hurricane target the way it did after 2004.
"After Katrina, New Orleans owns hurricanes right now," said Bruce Turkel, a partner in the Turkel advertising agency, which represents the Greater Miami tourism bureau.
"We did after Andrew. No longer."
David Feder, general manager of the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort, said the three storms of 2008 are bound to scare off a few vacationers and have some meeting planners jittery about booking Florida next September.
But he's more concerned this year about a late Yom Kippur, which will cost the Fairmont conferences in October, when rates are higher.
"Let me put it like this: Jewish holidays are a bigger deal than hurricanes," he said.
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