The controversy over county commissioners blocking the library system from having a digital subscription to the New York Times has spilled over into the local tourism realm.
People are cancelling trips to Citrus County and the repercussions are being felt as far abroad as London, England.
John Pricher, director of the Citrus County Visitors Bureau, said as of Wednesday afternoon he’s received 10 anonymous and signed emails from tourists who all oppose county commissioners’ actions.
“They disagree with it and most say they’re not coming to the area because of it or they’re changing their plans,” Pricher said. “I’m hoping that it’s just a vocal minority and things just continue to move forward.”
Pricher said he has not heard from hoteliers or tour boat operators. The short-term ramifications seem slight, he said. But it could become a problem if it drags out, he added.
The controversy could not come at a worse time. Manatee season begins next week and the county relies heavily on visitors staying overnight at local hotels and spending money at area businesses. Local tour boat operators depend on the season for a large chunk of revenue.
Pricher said he is optimistic that many of these people threatening to bail on a Citrus County vacation are not serious.
“I’m hopeful that when the manatees roll in, the people will roll in,” he said.
Pricher believes this controversy will be short-lived.
“The real reason you come here is for the water, the manatees, the outdoors and small towns,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s going to impact us like (the red tide scare).”
Still Pricher would like all this to go away because any negative perception of Citrus County doesn’t benefit the tourist trade.
Michael Mancke, general manager of the Plantation on Crystal River, said he’s not had any booking cancellations at this time.
But word is spreading internationally.
Mancke, also a member of the Citrus County Tourist Development Council (TDC), said the Plantation teamed with the county Visitors Bureau to operate a booth at a travel trade show in London, England.
A few people told staffers there they had seen the Washington Post story, which picked up the controversy and wondered what is going on in Citrus County. How, they asked, can a community be so closed-minded?
“It doesn’t look favorable for this community when the international market perceives us as not being open-minded,” Mancke said.
Mike Engiles, owner of Crystal River Watersports and president of the Manatee Eco Tourism Association, said he’s had no tour cancellations over this.
“There might be people who chose not to call us to (book),” said Engiles, also a TDC member. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
Asked whether this controversy could affect the opening of manatee season: “It can’t help,” he said.
Here are some emails sent Tuesday and Wednesday to Pricher in response to the New York Times issue:
• Weston Howland: “My mother and I were planning a trip to spend a week to ten days in the Crystal River area. We just saw that the (county commission) will not allow the library funding for the New York Times — calling it fake news. I am appalled.. in this day and age censorship is alive and well. Needless to say we will NOT (be) venturing down to Chrystal (sic) River anytime soon. The County must be pretty solid financially that they can do something so ignorant that WILL affect tourism.”
• David Morey: “Are you people serious? I’ll be sure to NOT spend any tourism dollars in Citrus county Florida and will pass the word along.”
• Rick Osborn: “Not a good move to mix your county officials’ political views to general public policy. I won’t be stopping this year in your county as I usually do on my way to/from Fort Myers in Jan/Feb. I will do my best to avoid spending any time and money in your county. How you elect to exercise your political views is your business, but when you make it public policy based on your views count me out.”
• Jeff Balb: “I won’t be bringing my family there for vacation again. Why don’t you all put together some book-burning events on at the library to attract the tourist that can relate to your politics?”
• Ben PerLee: “Just wanted to let you know that I won’t be visiting Citrus County because of your bumbling county commissioners who oppose the New York Times in their libraries. I’m sure your county is great and the manatees are super cute … but I don’t think your place is the welcoming type.”