Scott visits Key West to promote tourism after Isaac

The Miami HeraldAugust 30, 2012 

KEY WEST -- Harold Wheeler, executive director of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, got a surprise phone call at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday from the governor's office.

"The governor wanted to come down to Key West and help us get out the word that we're open for business," Harold Wheeler said.

At 2:15 p.m., Gov. Rick Scott was shaking hands with tourists from Brazil, Japan and elsewhere at the island city's iconic Southernmost Point buoy. It's the same landmark where raincoat-clad reporters and meteorologists with drenched hair constantly told and showed viewers from around the world about Tropical Storm Isaac.

But The Weather Channel, CNN, CBS and several network affiliates all left without showing that the city was completely back to normal. That's why Scott decided at the last minute to come to Key West, to show the protective plastic wrap had been taken off the buoy and the island was ready for visitors to return in time for the usually busy Labor Day Weekend.

Scott said he wanted to help with the "economic recovery" of the Keys. Earlier on Wednesday, he had been in Palm Beach County, which suffered severe flooding, to see what he could do to help with its "physical recovery."

Key West suffered no major damage. The biggest part of the cleanup from the winds and storm surge was getting rid of seaweed washed up on the beaches.

"Over 1 million people rely on the tourist industry for their jobs" in Florida, Scott said during a news conference in the manicured gardens of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, one of the island city's most popular tourist attractions.

"Key West is wonderful this time of year," Scott added.

"If you had gone down to the southern tip, you'd see how beautiful the water is. The restaurants are open. It's going to be a great Labor Day Weekend."

After leaving Key West on Wednesday afternoon, Scott planned to tour damage that may be inflicted on the Panhandle.

He was supposed to speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa but cancelled those plans because of Isaac. However, now with the storm doing less damage in the state than expected, he said he may attend the convention Thursday, the final day. He said he will make a decision after going to the Panhandle.

But he dispelled any talk that he could be the "mystery speaker" on Thursday.

"No, it's not me," he said, adding that he saw something online that showed a picture of New York Jets quarterback and former University of Florida star Tim Tebow.

Scott said his priority has been helping his state through Isaac.

While Key West did not order a mandatory tourist evacuation when the island chain was hit with a hurricane warning, emergency management advised visitors who could leave on such short notice to do so.

Wheeler said it usually takes five days to get visitors to start returning, and that's with expensive advertising.

"The governor coming here is a tremendous help," said Kim Wigington, vice mayor of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners. "Most people have a misperception after a storm like the one we had that it always leaves damage. But what we got was barely a thunderstorm, and really was good that it washed our streets."

Among the tourists who got an unexpected picture with the governor was Hisakazu Morino from Tokyo. He and two family members delayed the Key West portion of their U.S. vacation because of the storm.

"We met him at the Southernmost Point, and now we see him again," Morino said while touring the Hemingway Home. "We are having a good time."

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