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Irma's Stamp On Florida Brand Could Be Costly

Hurricane Irma’s state-engulfing radar signature and widespread damage will be a hard image to shake, but tourism experts say Florida’s biggest industry will rebound.

With damage estimates still rolling in, families still grieving and large swaths of the state still without power, experts agree now’s not the time to declare Florida open for business.

Visit Florida vice president Stephen Lawson says the state’s public-private marketing arm is still in disaster mode.

“Obviously, looking back, and leading up to and during the hurricane, our number one priority was the safety and wellbeing of our visitors, businesses, industry partners and residents.”

The Visit Florida homepage, a splash of vibrant pastels and nature photos, doesn’t mention Irma by name. But clicking on a prominent “Florida Now,” icon links to the latest Irma-related curfew and travel warnings.

Experts say advertising too soon would damage credibility and risk insensitivity. But University of Central Florida marketing professor Alan Fyall says there’s also a danger in waiting too long.

“I think the most important message for Florida, without any shadow of a doubt, is to communicate that it’s still open for business. Why do I say that? It’s because it’s such a large component of Florida’s economy.”

Visit Florida is regrouping after steep budget cuts and tough new restrictions, but Lawson insists it will be up to the task of rebuilding the $80-billion market.

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