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With news that another outbreak of Red tide has returned to Florida, this time in Sarasota, look for another round of state and national news stories. While the media coverage is warranted, the hyperbolic response that comes from some environmental groups could, however, leave more lasting damage. A tourism expert says another round of over-the-top reactions could harm Florida’s largest industry. 

“Such media coverage locally, nationally, and even internationally slowly puts a blemish on the place brand, a blemish that takes a long time to disappear,” said Dr. Asli D.A. Tasci of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “When it comes to such impactful events, people have an elephant memory, they associate that negativity to the brand for a long time even if they can’t remember the reason for it.”

While Dr. Tasci says media coverage can effectuate a change in public policy that could lessen the environmental impact of Red tide, it could result in some people not visiting regions of Florida not impacted because of a tourist’s unfamiliarity with the size of the state.

The impact to Florida’s brand may have been worsened by environmental groups that fundraise off the algae outbreak.

A quick online search of the keywords “Florida” and “Red tide” found at least two groups soliciting for contributions.

Ocean Conservancy fundraising ad

The Ocean Conservancy proclaimed Red tide is “devastating Florida” and suggested people could make a difference by donating to their organization. 

While a group called “Help Florida Heal” politicized Red tide by urging all 12 million voters to support a “clean water agenda” and ominously warning “If we fail Florida, our water, our sea life, our way of life – they all die.”

Tourism organizations are fighting back to lessen the impact to their industry, and as a whole, Florida’s economy. Governor Rick Scott equates Red tide to the impact of a hurricane with the need to let domestic and international travelers know Florida is safe to visit. “Get the facts out where its impacting,” said Governor Scott. “You don’t want to misrepresent to anybody but you want people to know it’s not impacting the entire state.”

Local counties and Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing organization, launched campaigns this past summer to convince travelers Florida is safe to visit. 

“In terms of how it affected other parts of the state that did not have any red tide or algae on it shores, there is always the concern about perceptions of this being rampant statewide, especially among those out-of-state visitors who may not be as familiar with our state’s geography,” said Jennifer Fennell, spokesperson for the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), which represents local tourist boards. 

Those local DMOs are ramping up marketing efforts to encourage visitors to come to Florida and as Fennell points out, there are 663 miles of beaches and nearly all of them are clear of algae outbreaks. 

With end of 2018 tourism numbers released in early 2019, we’ll soon know the economic impact caused by Red tide and the subsequent public reaction to it. 

David Bishop is a native Floridian, husband and father. During his 30 year career, David has been a journalist, political operative and communications consultant.