Fla. officials express concerns about economy

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida travel industry executives expressed some concern about the outlook for the rest of 2001 in light of an uncertain domestic and international economy, projected higher gasoline prices and the threat of wildfires in drought areas.

Fred Lounsberry, senior vice president of sales for Universal's theme parks worldwide, said that although the situation "is not alarming yet, there is cause for attention to what is going on."

This was the message given to Gov. Jeb Bush here last week during the quarterly meeting of Visit Florida and its parent, the Florida Commission on Tourism, which is chaired by the governor. Lounsberry is a board member of the parent organization.

In Visit Florida's March newsletter sent to private sector partners, Barry Pitegoff, the organization's research vice president, was optimistic about Florida's prospects for the coming year.

The state "has often weathered economic downturns for two compelling reasons," he said. "In hard times, consumers shy away from risky spending. Florida is a low-risk destination because so many visitors are already familiar with it."

The second reason, he said, is that "[visitors] can make their visit here more economical if they need to. Historically, visitors have been remarkable in their ability to make trade-offs in their vacation components before canceling trips entirely."

Trade-offs include the selection of natural and historical attractions, or cheaper meals and hotels, he said.

"The last statistic to bend is usually length of stay," he said.

For the state to come up with more travel advertising dollars would require special legislation, a Visit Florida spokesman said. Tourism is a $50 billion per year industry in Florida.

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