Fay strikes Florida


Orlando, Florida (eTN) – Tropical Storm Fay passed over Key West, Florida making landfall in Cape Romano on Monday. A tropical storm warning was issued as Fay dumped rain and blew wind over the island at 3 pm. About 26,000 tourists have already fled the area after a Category 1 hurricane was announced.

Wind gusts as of press time on Tuesday reached over 60-73 mph across Key West with 4 to 8 inches of rain and 4 to 8-foot storm surge. A tornado watch was issued, too, on Monday. Bands generating from the south over to the west coast of the Sunshine State show a pattern as per one model coming out towards the east coast of Florida. From the north of Flagler Beach to Fernandina Beach, tropical storm conditions are possible within the next 36 hours. Interior sections of South Florida and southeastern Central Florida expect to have more rain and wind over the next 36 hours, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Authorities say there is some localized flooding and power lines are down in some areas. No serious injuries have been reported just yet; except for awnings that were down and trees and branches scattered in the area, no damages were reported.

According to Visit Florida, the state’s official source for travel and planning, South Florida hotels were open and fully operational in the Keys Tuesday for tourists to return to the area. Hotel guests get their money refunded for hotel bookings not fulfilled during the stay over the storm period. Major clean-ups are being done in hotel public areas and guests are expected to return tomorrow.

At the height of the hurricane season two years ago, the state of Florida saw a significant decline in visitors during the fall and winter travel season as a result of the hurricanes that battered parts of the sunshine state including Orlando, Miami and Tampa. Over a quarter of American guests canceled Florida travel plans because of the hurricanes, impacting the nearly 228,000 hotel rooms which were occupied each day in Florida according to a survey commissioned by Manugistics Group, Inc., a leading global provider of demand-driven supply chain management solutions.

From a nationwide consumer survey, Manugistics revealed American adults’ attitudes and behavior regarding business and leisure hotel plans to Florida following the worst hurricane season since 1950. The survey found that although another one third (34 percent) of American adults said that the recent hurricanes would not affect travel plans to Florida, but still up to 3.4 million hotel room nights in Florida were cancelled or avoided during the remainder of 2004.

Orlando theme parks were closed from Monday and remained closed in the morning but some were open for business Tuesday, according to Visit Florida. Schools were close in Orange and Seminole counties as school officials were not sure about the path of Fay. Dia Kuykendall, Corporate Communications Manager at Visit Florida said, “None of the hotels in Orlando were closed.”

To secure protection for convention organizers’ business who book Florida, Visit Florida introduced in 2004 an insurance program called Cover Your Event Insurance (CYE) to convince meeting professionals to forge ahead with plans for meetings, incentives, events or conventions at the destination. Attention from conference organizers got more intense when the full brunt of hurricanes Charlie, Frances and other named hurricanes were sustained by major cities in Florida.

Eight meetings and conferences groups asked for the CYE insurance in Florida over the course of Fay’s arrival. Kuykendall said, however, they may not likely make a claim as the CYE covers only named hurricanes by the national weather bureau, and not tropical storms. “And if they cancelled their events, they would have to go to their insurance companies and not Visit Florida to settle,” she said.

New or already scheduled events to be held over the hurricane season with a minimum of 100-room nights during a two-night period are eligible for this supplemental business insurance to be provided at no cost to meetings. A maximum of $5 million each month will be covered during August, September and October with the sub-limit per insured event at $100,000 if 100-300 room nights; $150,000 if 301-500 room nights; and $200,000 if over 500 room nights. Coverage will pay for room differential and extra expense for rescheduling events, but not for loss profits. For companies to cash in, their event must be rescheduled in Florida at the same or nearest available venue within 12 months, otherwise no claims will be entertained. Visit Florida pays all premiums, only for up to $10 million of exposures each month with sub-limits per insured event based on total room nights
Meanwhile in Jacksonville, people await the storm and anticipate a lot of rains to come, but with winds slowed down, damage is not expected.

Last year, a Central Florida hotel owner Harris Rosen, has threatened hurricane expert Dr. William Gray with a lawsuit for his gloomy storm predictions saying they have damaged state tourism.

The top hotel businessman said surveys show 70 percent of guests not returning to his hotels cited hurricane fears as the reason why.

According to Manugistics, survey respondents said that offering price incentives would be the most compelling action that hotels could take to make American consumers more likely to follow through with their leisure travel plans to Florida, despite the hurricanes.

For now, we’re standing by as the eye of the storm goes by.