Travel Weekly's Florida E-Letter: August 22, 2001

BECAUSE SO MANY swimmers use Volusia County's public beaches, the 17 shark bites so far this year in the Daytona area (six this past weekend) are higher than elsewhere, Sharon Mock, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said. The publicity has had no effect on bookings, she added. In fact, Visit Florida, the state's public-private tourism promotion concern, reported that the ratio of recent shark inquiries from the media and the public is running at 100 to 1, respectively. Callers are referred by Visit Florida to neutral sources of shark information: the Florida Aquarium, Tampa, and the International Shark Attack File, Gainesville, a spokesman said.

ESTIMATED VISITORS to Florida during the second quarter of the year, despite concerns over the economy, were up by 11.4% vs. the same period of 2000, Visit Florida reported. However, those 20.9 million visitors were not necessarily big-spenders. Visit Florida, citing tourism tax collection totals not consistent with the visitor increase, explained that many visitors selected cheaper accommodations and visited free or less-costly attractions.

IN OTHER NEWS, "Great Moments, Great Vacations" will be the new tagline of Visit Florida's consumer TV and print ads that will break this fall in a campaign primarily targeting the region east of the Mississippi River. The aim is to show that beaches and theme parks are not the state's only activities. Visit Florida also reported that its sales office in Paris is now open.

CASA CASUARINA, the late fashion designer Gianni Versace's mansion in South Beach, will be converted into an upscale, 15-suite hotel and restaurant by the mansion's new owner, Peter Loftin, a Raleigh, N.C., telecommunications executive. When it opens around mid-December, rates will start at about $2,000 per night. Discussions with Island Outpost to manage the hotel have begun.

FANTASY FEST, Key West's annual Mardi Gras-style celebration of Halloween, is set for Oct. 19 to 28.The theme is Secrets of the Zodiac Revealed. Events include outrageous masquerade balls, costume competitions, and the grand finale -- the Bell South Fantasy Fest Parade, slated for the evening of Oct. 27.

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