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Florida tourism slide may be worse than post-9-11 decline

Broward County's tourism industry painted a grim picture of itself Tuesday, saying that in some ways the vacation market is suffering more than it did after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, predicted an 8 percent decline in hotel taxes by the fall – worse than the post-9-11 loss of 7.3 percent.

The top executive at the county's largest hotel, the Westin Diplomat, said South Florida is offering deeper rate cuts than other major vacation destinations. That will delay the recovery once the current economic crisis eases.

"To get back to where we were in 2007 or 2008 is going to take years," said Mark Kukulski, the Diplomat executive who supervises Starwood hotels in South Florida.

Grossman and Kukulski's comments came at a hearing before the County Commission to consider diverting hotel taxes from marketing to local arts groups. The commission gave the idea a cool reception, as tourism supporters said they need the tax dollars more now than ever.

With vacation spending and business travel down nationwide, no one expects 2009 to be a cheery year for tourism in South Florida.

Overnight visitors dropped 2 percent last year after an autumn collapse in Sunshine State vacations, Florida's tourism bureau reported this week. Between October and December, tourism plunged 13 percent statewide.

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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