Guest Commentary: Keep calm and share your beach pictures
This Memorial Day, many local businesses are looking forward to a busy holiday weekend to support their financial recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As hotels, restaurants and attractions gear up for one last opportunity to bring in tourists before summer, it is extremely disheartening to see how the local headlines are painting a picture of gloom and doom with countless reports of algae blooms in our waterways. One media outlet has posted 15 stories over a 10-day period. Another is running ads on a digital billboard. Frontpage headlines read, “Will 2018’s water nightmare return?” These frightening headlines are coupled with outdated images of algae-laden waters that are often not even from Southwest Florida.
Bringing in nearly $3 billion in revenue to Southwest Florida, tourism is the backbone of our local economy. Misleading coverage of the algae blooms can and will scare tourism dollars away from our small businesses. As residents of Southwest Florida, we can see the condition of our beaches firsthand — and we can see that right now, they are pristine — but tourists are forced to rely on what is being reported in the media. Remember the misconception that our beaches were uninhabitable after the BP Oil Spill? The current situation is no different.
We have all seen firsthand the effects of blue green algae and red tide on our tourism industry. The results were devastating in 2018 and should never be forgotten, nor should our push to improve local water quality. But exploiting the issue for media sales or to gain viewers through scare tactics is irresponsible and detrimental to the many businesses that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and our legislature has made our water quality a top priority and the state has spent historic amounts of money on Everglades restoration projects and studies aimed to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges. This is not to say that we do not have problems — we certainly do — but as a busy holiday weekend approaches, many news reports fail to mention that our beaches are not experiencing algae blooms right now. We should be promoting that Southwest Florida is open for business.
I encourage our residents to head to the beach for Memorial Day, support a local business, and to spread the news that our water is clean. Share photos of the beautiful conditions we have right now on social media. When you talk to friends from out-of-state, tell them the truth about our beaches — that now is a perfect time to visit. To the many tourists out there looking to come to Southwest Florida, let me assure you our beaches are pristine, our water beautiful, and our weather perfect.
Our work for water quality and the survival of our local economy are both critical, and both need your help. Contact me to learn more at Tiffany@SWFLinc.com.
— Tiffany Esposito, MBA, CCE, IOM, APR, is the president & CEO of SWFL Inc., a regional chamber of commerce serving businesses in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.