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ORLANDO-Central Florida’s $50-billion-a-year tourist industry, concerned that three back-to-back hurricanes this fall would decimate revenue to the area’s 100,000 hotel and motel rooms, has won a breather.

Orange County finished its fiscal year Oct. 31 by posting a record $111 million in room tax collections, up 19% from $93.3 million in 2003. The previous high was $108.2 million in fiscal 2000. For September, collections totaled $8.1 million, up 30% over September 2003 and the highest September month since collections began in 1979, says county comptroller Martha O. Haynie.

Ironically, September’s record collections were attributed to the hurricane crisis, area hospitality industry consultants tell GlobeSt.com. Residents forced to leave their homes during the storms filled most of the area’s hotel and motel rooms for periods up to a month. Some of the rooms were priced at higher than normal season rates, according to complaints received at the time by the Orlando/Orange County Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Despite the healthy tourist tax numbers posted for the year, hoteliers and consultants agree the real test of the area’s hospitality industry recovery will come next hurricane season which generally begins in June and ends in November.

“If we run into the same back-to-back series of storms, we may really have to increase our advertising and promotional budgets to assure tourists and visitors we are not a perennial hurricane state,” a general manager of a major area hotel, who asked for anonymity, tells GlobeSt.com.

Meanwhile, Visit Florida, the state-sanctioned tourist agency, has reduced its request for new promotional funds from the legislature to $14.5 million from the $30 million it sought immediately after Hurricanes Charlie, Ivan and Jeanne rocked the metro area in late August and early September.

Based on the new hotel tax revenue collections for fiscal 2004, the agency is reducing its previously planned advertising allocations for the first seven months of the new season, Visit Florida staffers tell GlobeSt.com. The agency will have enough funds in reserve to step up a fresh campaign in mid-2005 if the hurricanes return with the same revenue-inflicting damage to area properties, staffers say.

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