Business

Brexit means uncertainty for tourism, real-estate markets

Kelly Defebo, director of sales at Visit Sarasota County, and Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, speak at a panel discussion at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. The panel focused on impacts of Brexit on the tourism and real estate industries.
Kelly Defebo, director of sales at Visit Sarasota County, and Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, speak at a panel discussion at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. The panel focused on impacts of Brexit on the tourism and real estate industries. jodea@bradenton.com

The Florida tourism industry can’t do much except hurry up and wait when it comes to preparing for the effects of Britain’s separation from the European Union, now famously known as Brexit.

“Basically for us in the travel industry, we’re in a holding pattern,” said Kelly Defebo, director of sales for Sarasota County’s tourism bureau, Visit Sarasota County. “For the destination we’re seeing a little bit of slide in our international visitation numbers. But we can’t totally attribute that to Brexit just yet. So we are waiting until the beginning of the year when it’s peak booking season for the holidays.”

The impact is striking to see the pendulum swing from just a vacation to people said to me plainly, ‘I don’t like the direction the country is moving in and I want to live in the US.’

Jo Ann Koontz, attorney at Koontz & Associates in Sarasota

Elliott Falcione, executive director of Manatee County’s tourism bureau, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed with Defebo. Falcione cited a strategy he often defaults to when discussing obstacles in the tourism industry.

“Essentially, stay engaged in the market,” he said. “They’re going to be inclined to still go on holiday, but maybe not as frequent or not stay as long. There’s a saying; sometimes you can actually benefit through an adverse situation through a market-share standpoint.”

International visitors typically book trips through travel agents, unlike international U.S. tourists. Defebo said most agents are trying to stay optimistic about travel prospects despite the falling value of the pound and market uncertainty caused by Brexit.

$1.70 to $1.22 British pound-to-dollar value two years ago and today

High-value visitors like Brits who seek to buy property or invest in a business in Florida are the tourism bureaus’ main concern. But there’s also a lot of unknowns with domestic visitation and how Florida’s individual destinations will fare. On both counts, Manatee and Sarasota aren’t expected to take the brunt of the impact.

“As far as Orlando goes, it is expected to suffer a bit because of the prices of the theme-park tickets,” Defebo said. “They’re now viewed as extremely expensive. There is a little bit of this mindset that Florida is not a super-expensive but a pretty-expensive vacation destination. The good part about that with us, for Sarasota, is our demographic we attract to the destination is the boomer group, the retired group and couples. So while we’re affected, we’re not as affected as larger cities like Orlando and Miami.”

That level of uncertainty in the very short term caused central banks to get very fearful and accommodate so interest rates turned very negative in Europe. Basically people were lending money to the governmentt and paying them to lend them the money. They would give them $1 million and only get back $990,000. That does make real estate here look pretty good.

Brian Mariash, a senior financial advisor at Mariash Lowther Wealth Management in Sarasota

The United Kingdom has seen a 4 percent boost in international travel since the Brexit vote, Defebo said, and there could be some threat from the weaker pound pulling domestic visitors to Britain instead of Florida. Falcione agreed Brexit could impact the summer visitation levels. At the same time, he said it’s nearly impossible to compare a vacation to Britain with a vacation to Florida.

“If you live in Boston or New York or Chicago, you want to come to Florida and these sugar, white-sand beaches,” Falcione said. To keep in-state visitation, the CVB “will infuse more dollars into Florida and Georgia.”

On top of the Brexit uncertainty, the contentious presidential election brings another fold of unknowns into the tourism industry.

“(Donald) Trump, the way he has run his mouth of not making the U.S. a welcoming country, it could hurt visitation,” Falcione said. “People get upset. This guy could create a presence that, ‘We’re not welcome in this country, we may not want to visit here or live here.’ ”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

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