Florida's tourism officials gathered for a conclave in Destin aren't exactly jumping for joy over the prospects for growth in 2011; even as the worst of America's recession and the BP Oil spill (almost a year old) appear behind them.
Canadians have been amongst the most reliable of Florida's long time visitors, but our Snowbird trips outside of the USA have grown by 109% since 1998. In fact the share of the Snowbird trips captured by the United-States fell to 65% in 2009 from almost 70% in the previous ten years. It's not just as a result of the economic downturn and environmental concerns. The more aggressive targeting of Canadians to destinations such as Cuba, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands as well as Spain and Portugal has been especially effective with younger Snowbirds taking shorter more active trips south during Canada's miserable winter months.
Florida's big draw remains two-fold: You can drive there - And despite the overwhelming gun violence stories many Canadians witness on America's television networks; our perception is that it remains a relatively safe destination. In fact in the last couple of years it is reports of Canadian tourists injured or murdered in Mexico which have dominated our own national headlines.
It's likely a sign of our difficult winters. But for a nation of just about 33-Million people, in 2009 Canadians took more than 52-Million trips abroad; and in just about 300 of those they were unfortunately assaulted or killed on their foreign travel(s).
How safe are Canadians abroad and where don't we want to go? Statistics show that out of every 100,000 Canadians who visit India, 7.5 will be assaulted or killed. Jamaica (3.6); Russia (3.2); and Mexico (2.1) are next along the list. Foreign Affairs and International Trade says the United-States (our most popular travel destination) remains the safest. The chance of being assaulted or killed while visiting south of the 49th parallel is pegged at 3 incidents for every 10-million visits. In real terms; in 2009 that consisted of six assaults and seven deaths.
Spring Break is just now wrapped-up. Fast forward to 2012 and police officials envision gun-slinging party goers free to drink alcohol and to display sidearms (pistols) openly. As early as this July, a bill currently working its way through Florida's State Legislature would allow people with weapons' permits to carry guns openly. If enacted, the "open-carry" law will take effect on July first. There are already more than 1-million licensed permit holders "good to go!"
Besides the abominable image of an idiot in a Speedo packing a six-shooter; the Florida Sheriffs' Association has told the Legislature that..."the image of citizens openly carrying firearms in public places could have a negative impact on tourism and the state's economy." Never mind that "spring break" (in particular) means sand, surf and binge drinking for many young visitors. They carry alcohol to the beach; store liquor in their rented rooms and condos; and pound back shots at bars. And; between fake IDs, older friends, and trips to 18+ drinking zones; everyone imbibes...then someone dies.
Critics proclaim that it's not just that Florida's new "Tea-Party" motivated Republican Administration of Governor Rick Scott is passionate about individual freedoms. They say, it is that the current session of the legislative assembly is going way too far in its zeal to divest of its social responsibilities. Further to the troubling "open-carry" gun issue a second bill supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) would prevent local authorities from enacting city or county by-laws against the State's new gun law. The NRA maintains that local governments (cities/counties) will continue to..."flout state laws with unwarranted gun restrictions without stiffer penalties."
So their companion piece of legislation working its way through the state government, would fine local officials up to $100,000 for enacting local gun or ammunition restrictions that would run counter to the "open carry" state law. One critic described the legislation as having a "chilling effect" on anyone running for local public office. Yes! And perhaps a double-dose of chill on Canadian tourists pondering a visit to Florida after the first of July. I sure hope that Mickey Mouse doesn't plan on packing a six-gun.