SARASOTA (970 WFLA) -- The numbers aren't in yet, but Sarasota tourism officials are getting anecdotal evidence that red tide is affecting the summer visitor trade, which comes mostly from Tampa Bay and other Florida markets.
Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota, says most hotels are dealing with visitors either canceling their reservations or shortening their stay by a day or two because of the algae bloom. Red tide causes harm to fish and sea turtles and respiratory irritation for beachgoers.
Haley thinks some tourists have already decided to go to other Florida destinations, such as Orlando theme parks. "Tampa itself is... one of our number one summer weekend markets... and as they're hearing on (970 WFLA) and (other), the reports about red tide... we don't even know we miss them," Haley said.
Sarasota summer tourism is driven by visitors from other Florida markets, including Tampa, Orlando and South Florida (Miami to West Palm Beach). This past weekend is the last one for most Florida families before the school year begins and Haley thinks it's likely business was impacted. Visit Sarasota expects to have a better read on the situation later this week.
Haley says they're working to keep visitors informed about beach conditions by referring them to Mote Marine Lab's beach conditions site, which is frequently updated by lifeguards at the beaches.
Haley says they're also working with local hotels, visitor centers, and social media to get the word out that there's life "beyond the beach" in downtown Sarasota, downtown Venice and other locations in the county.
"There are so many activities going on .... the festivals, the theater, the other events that we have, that you're going to discover that you don't miss the beach," Haley said.
Once the red tide recedes, Haley says Visit Sarasota will be focused on telling would-be visitors that beaches are open and encouraging visitors to come back.
The subject may be a good deal more sensitive farther south. Down the coast, tourism officials in Lee County, which has taken the brunt of the impact of this year's red tide outbreak, turned down our offer of an interview.
Photo: Getty Images (taken down the coast at Captiva)