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Orbitz Guarantee to FL Tourist May Help But May Not Be Enough

June 29, 2010

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. - The threat of oil gushing onto Florida beaches has caused hotel cancellations and reduced bookings across the state, threatening Florida's 60 billion dollar a year travel industry. Now, the Orbitz online travel service is trying to help stem that tide with what they're calling an "Open Beach Guarantee."

Jeanenne Tornatore, Orbitz Travel Insider, says that from now until July 31, they will provide a full refund on rooms at participating hotels, if a beach within 20 miles of that hotel is closed or declared dangerous due to the oil spill. She says the company wanted to ease their customers' minds.

"We don't want them to feel like they can't book and take that vacation because they're worried that they might be out hundreds of dollars should oil come ashore."

Nearly 150 Florida hotels are participating so far, and Tornatore hopes more will get on board. She says they have also added daily updates to the Orbitz website about the spill's path, cleanup efforts, and volunteer opportunities.

Keith Overton is chief operating officer of the Tradewinds Resort, one of the participating hotels, where he says bookings are way off this summer. He is also chairman of the board of the Florida Restaurant Lodging Association and he says this will help with Florida tourists, and those driving in, but he thinks it won't convince Europeans to vacation in the Sunshine State.

"Because of their commitment to so many other things, rental cars and airline tickets which are non-refundable and so on, they have a lot more at risk, so I think they will be more apprehensive."

Overton says the travel and resort interests are fighting the public perception that all Florida beaches will be covered in oil, but he says the open beach guarantee is a step in the right direction.

"All of those kinds of efforts help in their own way, even if they just mitigate a small percentage of the losses. But, what I think we're in for here is an extremely long period of suffering."

Overton says Florida bookings have not yet recovered from the hurricanes of 2004, and he expects the Deepwater Horizon spill will hurt Florida tourism for at least two more years.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL