A survivor of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is urging that tourists boycott Florida during spring break to pressure state lawmakers to debate gun control in the final weeks of the legislative session.
In tweets Saturday, David Hogg, a 17-year-old student journalist and one of the most vocal shooting survivors, asked spring break travelers to skip the Sunshine State this year and instead consider traveling to Puerto Rico, which was hit hard by hurricanes last year.
“Let’s make a deal DO NOT come to Florida for spring break unless gun legislation is passed,” Hogg wrote to his 330,000 followers in a tweet that has been shared more than 60,000 times. “These politions (sic) won’t listen to us so maybe the’ll (sic) listen to the billion dollar tourism industry in FL.”
Hogg later urged vacationers to spend their spring break in Puerto Rico. “They could really use the economic support that the government has failed to provide,” he wrote in another tweet.
Tourism is Florida’s largest industry, accounting for roughly 1.4 million jobs.
More than 112 million out-of-towners traveled to the state in 2016, spending $108.8 billion during their stays here, according to Visit Florida, the state’stourism marketing organization.
“Visit Florida will continue to market our state as a welcoming and safe world-class destination,” a spokesman for the tourism group said in a statement. “The Sunshine State is always open for visitors.”
Florida’s tourism industry was on track to have another record-breaking year in 2017. Gov. Rick Scott was expected to travel to Juno Beach on Feb. 15 — the day after the shooting in Parkland — to release statewide tourism statistics for the final quarter of 2017. The trip was canceled and has not been rescheduled.
In Palm Beach County, the tourism industry employs roughly 70,000 and contributes more than $7 billion to the local economy.
Although February and March are typically the busiest months for the county’s hotels, a top tourism official said Hogg’s call for a boycott won’t hurt the local economy because the area is not a destination for younger spring break travelers.
During the spring months, the area attracts older tourists from cold weather states in the northeastern part of the country, Canadians, and families looking for a beachfront resort, said Glenn Jergensen, the executive director of the county’s Tourist Development Council.
“I honestly don’t think it is going to be something that is going to impact us in the short-term,” Jergensen said of the boycott push. “We have never had a big spring break destination.”
Rick Netzel, director of sales and marketing at the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn, agreed. Younger spring break travelers typically vacation in the Panhandle, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, he said.
“I am not too concerned,” Netzel said. “I don’t think it is going to detour the snowbirds.”
Palm Beach County has seen its tourism industry soar in the months since hurricanes tore through the Florida Keys and the Caribbean.
The September storms caused widespread damage in the middle Keys, Puerto Rico and other tropical vacation spots, leaving hoteliers with fewer rooms to rent. As business owners continue to deal with the damage, some tourists have decided to look for new places to visit during the winter travel season.
That shift, coupled with several large events at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, has kept local hotel rooms full and sent tourism tax collections climbing, county tourism leaders said.
‘Better wake up’
But at least one local hotelier said the state’s tourism industry could lose some of that momentum if travelers begin to associate Florida with mass shootings.
“It’s going to hurt us,” said Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who owns the Tideline Hotel on Palm Beach.
“We can’t be the Wild West,” Greene said. “It’s not a positive. It’s only a negative to have all this stuff going on.”
Greene, who ran an unsuccessful campaign as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 2010, said Florida risks alienating all types of tourists fearful of the mass shootings taking place in the state.
“Florida better wake up,” Greene said. “We are going to lose tourists. People are not going to want to come here. What with all these shootings, the stand your ground (law) and Pulse and now Parkland, people are going to start thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll go to St. Bart’s or some other place.’”
Hogg’s call for a boycott came days after the Republican-controlled Florida House voted against even debating gun control. By a largely party-line two to one margin, the chamber decided not to bring to the floor a bill (HB 219) that would ban the sale of assault weapons like the one used by Nikolas Cruz in the Parkland shooting. A Senate version of the bill (SB 196) has been filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, for three years running and never received a committee hearing.
After meeting with survivors of the Parkland shooting, Scott and Republican leaders said they will consider legislation banning the sale of firearms to anyone younger than 21 and increasing money for mental health programs and school resource officers.
The legislative session is scheduled to end March 9.