TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Governor Rick Scott and Pinellas tourism officials are in London Monday to encourage British travel to Florida amid all kinds of somber news about the Sunshine State; the value of the British Pound is plummeting after BREXIT, there are international health warnings about the Zika virus in Florida, news reports of killer alligators at Disney World, and if that’s not enough–a monster algae bloom on Florida’s East Coast that makes beaches and waterways smell like death.”
“As far as we can tell we haven’t been tarnished by that,” said David Downing, Executive Director of the St.Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Downing is traveling with the Governor and says he’s trying to strengthen relationships with his counterparts in the UK travel industry.
“The UK is our number one international market particularly to St.Pete Clearwater so we’re here to shore up our relationships and were going to work through this with them,” Downing said in a video interview from London, Monday.
Tina Harrison runs the Great Heron Inn on Indian Rocks Beach and tells 8 on Your Side that so far, none of her British guests have cancelled any reservations so far and he hopes it stays that way. Downing says that’s generally true up and down the beaches, despite the 25 percent drop in the value of the British pound sterling.
“In the UK when you have a financial crisis you don’t cut out your vacation…here vacation is a birthright you take your holiday,” Downing said.
First quarter statistics for Pinellas tourism indicate 87,808 visitors came from the UK in January, February and March, a slight uptick over the same period last year.
British travel tends to peak in the second quarter but those numbers aren’t in yet.
Ryan Hill is visiting Clearwater with his daughters from his home in Norther Ireland and says before BREXIT 1000 British pounds would buy about $1600. Now the value is around $1200. That hurts, but he still doesn’t regret his family vacation in Florida.
“My two girls have enjoyed it so much I don’t think you could regret it but for sure it’s been a big financial hit,” Hill said.
Meanwhile, hotel operators who’ve enjoyed a banner year so far tell 8 on Your Side they’re keeping a close watch on bookings. UK tourists account for 10 percent of the tourism in Pinellas and 18 percent of tourism spending.
“Concerned,” said Sheraton Sand Key General Manager Russ Kimball. ” Watching it always.”
Downing says if there is a silver lining to all of this it’s for Florida residents considering a trip to the UK.
“I’m blown away by how inexpensive things are,” Downing said from London. “If you were thinking of going to the United Kingdom this is your time to do it.”