Key West Operator Shrugs Off Hemingway Days Cancellation


KEY WEST, Fla. -- Although the 17th annual Hemingway Days Festival was scrapped this summer because of a dispute between the festival organizer and the late author's three sons, city hoteliers should not have too many empty rooms, according to Vanessa McCaffrey, general manager of Vacation Key West, a local tour operator.

Her firm has more than doubled its business thus far this year, and demand for Key West has been so strong that many hotels that routinely had reduced their peak rates right after Easter in 1996 are doing so on May 1 this year.

The festival was slated for July 18 to 27, McCaffrey said, explaining that Florida residents tend to escape to Key West in the summer. Bookings are expected to remain brisk, she said.

Although McCaffrey did not want to see the festival cancelled, she noted that Hemingway Days bookings represented only 5% of her company's overall reservations in 1996, and she expected the cancellation to have only "a slight effect" on her business and Key West hotel occupancies.

But Vacation Key West's Hemingway Festival packages were big sellers, she noted, and they even included T-shirts and other souvenirs.

"We still have the Hemingway Home, and there are plenty of other activities for a visitor," she said.

In addition to traditional vacations, the operator offers diving, the arts, heritage and ecology-related plans throughout the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, the Key West Hotel & Motel Association is looking to replace Hemingway Days with another event, according to Jack Smith, the group's executive director.

Hemingway Days usually yields about $250,000 worth of free publicity for the city, according to Stuart Newman & Associates in Miami, the Keys' public relations firm.

Sloppy Joe's Bar, the landmark that had been Ernest Hemingway's watering hole, staged a Hemingway Look-Alike contest in Key West every year and is expected to continue the tradition, possibly around July 21, sources said, although the Hemingway name might be replaced.

According to a spokeswoman for the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council, the festival drew some 10,000 visitors. Of that total, about 6,000 were from outside Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys.

Spending by the out-of-towners during the festival week was estimated at more than $2 million. Their average length of stay was 3.6 nights.

The dispute that led to the festival's cancellation occurred when Hemingway's sons Jack, Patrick and Gregory sought compensation for the use of the family name along with control of the festival's content to assure "the integrity and quality of the name and likeness of their father," according to Fashion Licensing of America, the firm that is representing the three sons.

If these demands were not met, the sons threatened a lawsuit, according to festival founder and organizer Michael Whalton. Thus, he decided to cancel the event.

"There was no question that the family was looking for control. We really have worked hard to find a balance of events to honor him as a literary genius and a larger-than-life character," Whalton said.

Interviewed by Travel Weekly, Whalton said that the Hemingway sons did not give any indication that they wanted to resolve the dispute.

He said during a press conference that he did not want a legal battle with the Hemingways and preferred "to end on an up, rather than let family politics bring the image down."

Meanwhile, Lorian Heming-way, a granddaughter of the author and daughter of one of the heirs, backs Whalton.

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