The Parkland school shootings took place nearly a month ago, but the echoes continue to be heard, and the tourism industry is hearing them as well. The latest salvo in the controversy that has followed the tragedy has been a call from surviving students to boycott Florida as a destination for spring break. And if heeded, it could have strong ramifications for the sports tourism industry.
CNN reported this week that surviving student, David Hogg, who has become a catalyst for a movement for stricter gun laws in the state of Florida, became the first to call upon college students to change their spring break plans:
"Let's make a deal; DO NOT come to Florida for spring break unless gun legislation is passed," David Hogg wrote on Twitter.
He says the politicians aren't listening to students and others calling for gun control, "so maybe they'll listen to the billion dollar tourism industry in FL. #neveragain."
Thousands of college students and families visit Florida beaches and tourist attractions such as Disney World during school spring break vacations.
Instead, Hogg wrote, students could make plans to visit Puerto Rico instead, which "could really use the economic support that the government has failed to provide.”
Hogg, news outlets will remember, is the student journalist who hid in a closet and interviewed those around him about what they were going through.
"I want to show these people exactly what's going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education," he told CNN. "That's not OK, and that's not acceptable and we need to fix that."
The Twitterstorm Hogg has generated, and the accompanying attention, come at a time when tourism funds are desperately needed. Many state legislators have continued their demands to cut funding from the budget of ViISIT FLORIDA, the state’s largest CVB. Governor Rick Scott is lobbying for a $100 million budget but cutbacks could trim that amount to $76 million. Scott has argued that 1.4 million jobs in the state are related to the tourism economy and that any budget cuts will hurt residents.
It’s not just traditional spring breakers, either. Florida serves as the destination point for a number of college sports tournaments that take place during spring break. Among these are Florida-based event owners like Spring Break Sports, which offer intensive tournaments and camps in tennis, lacrosse, softball, baseball and golf. Upper Iowa University is planning to head to Clermont, Florida, for the PFX Tournaments. The Under Armour Showcase for softball is held in Clearwater, Florida.
And that’s just a sampling. Sports tourism, according to the Florida Sports Foundation, brings in $57.4 billion each year, according to this research, published in Sports Destination Management.
Interestingly enough, the Millennial demographic, the group that identifies with those affected by the shooting, is responding to it on a different level from those of the Baby Boomer generation during tragedies such as Columbine and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City – and that’s not really a surprise. The Millennial values are different; they have a strong sense of altruism, they stand up for causes they believe in – and of course, they use technology to communicate.
Millennials’ desire to do good in the world could play into the problem – and might indeed convince them to visit Puerto Rico instead.
VISIT FLORIDA told SDM it intends to maintain its work to bring in travelers from all destinations but did not speak to the student-led boycott.
"VISIT FLORIDA will continue to market our state as a welcoming and safe world-class destination,” said VISIT FLORIDA Vice President of Government Relations Stephen Lawson. “The Sunshine State is always open for visitors."