The travel industry found itself having to take sides with or against student survivors of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shooting, who called for a spring break boycott of travel to the Sunshine State.

David Hogg, a student who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack that killed 17, tweeted on Feb. 24: "Let's make a deal. DO NOT come to Florida for spring break unless gun legislation is passed. These politicians won't listen to us, so maybe they'll listen to the billion-dollar tourism industry."

As of last week, Hogg's tweet had been liked by 170,000 people and had been retweeted 62,000 times.

Hogg, one of many students-turned-gun-control-advocates, went so far as to suggest that people instead travel to Puerto Rico, which, he tweeted, "could really use the economic support that the [federal] government has failed to provide."

Travel agents and destination marketers in Florida found themselves divided about whether or not to support a boycott of their state during a peak travel time.

Alan Rosen, president of Sand & C Travel in Boynton Beach, Fla., just 30 minutes from Parkland, said he supported the spring break boycott.

"We've talked to a lot of people who had kids who were in the building at the time, experienced horrific things to the point of walking by, or over, bodies to get out of the school," he said. "But what's certainly been uplifting has been the response of these kids. They're just unbelievable."

Rosen called on fellow agents to recommend other destinations for their clients' spring break travel, because "we need to send a strong message to our leaders that inaction cannot be tolerated any longer."

"I now believe the best opportunity for change is through the actions of the students and by hitting our leaders in the pocketbook," Rosen said.

Like Rosen, Jesse Taylor, who heads the U.S. operations of Going Places Travel in Fort Lauderdale, also knows families affected by the tragedy. But he does not support the boycott.

"I think it's the wrong direction," Taylor said. "I believe there are other ways -- maybe campaigning to vote the nonresponsive politicians out -- rather than hurting all the men and women who are involved in this multibillion-dollar tourism industry here in Florida."

Mo Noubani, president and founder of Travel Box International in Orlando and the president of ASTA's Central and North Florida Chapter, said that he, too, opposed a boycott.

"I do feel there could be a lot more effective ways to address this," he said, adding that he is not against getting legislators' attention on gun control but that a travel boycott is not the answer.

"The problem is not stemming from the tourism industry," he said. "So why should [tourism] take full-on accountability?"

Visit Florida, the state's destination marketing organization (DMO), was tasked last week with speaking for Gov. Rick Scott as well as for local DMOs from Orlando to Panama City in responding to the call for a travel boycott.

But Visit Florida's response failed to address the boycott question, with Stephen Lawson, the DMO's vice president of government relations, saying only that it "will continue to market our state as a welcoming and safe world-class destination. The Sunshine State is always open for visitors."

Jeff Webb, president of the Lee County chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which includes Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, voiced support for the students but was concerned that a boycott might actually work, given the country's focus on the gun issue and how effective the students have been at mobilizing.

"I applaud them, but I'm concerned about the impact," Webb said. "People will listen to them. It will probably sway some people from traveling to Florida."

Webb had an alternative spring break idea for the students: Go to Tallahassee and sit in front of the governor's mansion in protest.

U.S. businesses feel the fallout

The fallout from the shooting stretched far beyond Florida, with corporate America, including many travel companies, targeted for boycotts owing to their affiliations with the National Rifle Association (NRA). 

In the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting, Delta and United both announced that they had stopped offering discounted fares to NRA members to attend their annual meetings. The two airlines also asked the NRA to remove any references to them from its website. American said it had never offered NRA discounts.

Georgia lawmakers last week punished Delta for its move, stripping a jet fuel tax break from a tax measure passed by the Senate, which would have benefited airlines flying into and out of the state. The vote made good on Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's threat to stop any tax break that would benefit Atlanta-based Delta. 

"I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA," Cagle tweeted. "Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."

Car rental companies Hertz, Avis Budget and Enterprise Holdings also ended their respective partnerships with the NRA, while the nation's largest hotel companies clarified that they'd either discontinued any affiliation with the NRA before the Parkland shooting or had never had one in the first place.

Wyndham Hotels Group said it ended a relationship with the NRA late last year, while Best Western Hotels & Resorts said it ended its NRA association in 2014.

No other major hotel brand said it had ever offered discounts or perks to NRA members.

The one travel company that publicly defended its NRA affiliation was the OTA HotelPlanner.com, which serves as the booking portal for the NRA Travel Center, where the NRA claims that HotelPlanner.com offers members discounts of as much as 65%.

In a Feb. 26 interview on CNBC, Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner.com, which specializes in group bookings, vowed to maintain the company's NRA affiliation, although he said that the amount of travel NRA members booked through the OTA was "insignificant."

"We just believe in classic hospitality," said Hentschel, whose parents are American Tours International founder Noel Irwin Hentschel and former Hyatt executive Gordon Hentschel. "If you ask us to be part of your boycott war, that's not what we're about."
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Danny King contributed to this report.

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