Florida-bound tourists should go elsewhere as ‘extremely dangerous’ Dorian approaches

Tourists with plans to come to Florida for Labor Day weekend should make other plans.

Hurricane Dorian is projected to make landfall Tuesday in Florida as a Category 4 storm, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in all 67 Florida counties. Caribbean-bound cruises are rerouting some ships and canceling others, airlines are waiving flight change fees, and Amtrak has canceled several train routes.

The website for Florida’s tourism department Visit Florida said Dorian “will remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane while it moves near the northwestern Bahamas and approaches the Florida peninsula into early next week,” citing the National Hurricane Center.

Tourists who had planned to travel to Florida for the long holiday weekend should consider going elsewhere.

“It is advisable that visitors seek alternative plans if planning to travel to the Greater Miami area during the Labor Day weekend,” said the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in a statement.

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The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is urging hotels to waive cancellation fees for tourists who want to cancel and to relax rules on pets for Floridians who want to seek shelter in hotels. It is also urging hotels to participate in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s shelter program for post-storm emergency lodging.

Florida Keys tourism officials Friday afternoon asked that all visitors leave the island chain ahead of Dorian.

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council is also urging those with immediate plans to visit the Keys to postpone them.

The county is not issuing a mandatory evacuation for visitors, and hotels, motels and resorts can remain open at this time, but the Tourist Development Council is asking nonresidents “to calmly leave the island chain if they have the means to do so,” said Andy Newman, spokesman for the agency

A Tourist Development Council press release stated the request is being made because county officials are concerned fuel, food and other goods and services will be disrupted because of the storm.

Newman said that as the forecast stood Friday, showing the storm hitting between Martin and Palm Beach counties, the biggest concern for the Keys is flooding in low-lying areas in the Upper Keys, particularly in Key Largo, including the 18 Mile Stretch, the major road in and out of the Keys from the mainland.

Key Largo is already experiencing higher water due to the annual “king tides,” which annually impact South Florida in late August well into the fall.

Newman quoted Jon Rizzo, the warning coordinator with the National Weather Service in Key West, who said tropical storm-force winds, ranging from 39 mph to 73 mph, are possible from Key Largo to Key West. The Upper Keys are more likely to experience high winds, Rizzo said.

Tourists who will ride out the storm in Florida should pay close attention to state and local officials for information about curfews and evacuation zones as the storm gets closer. As of late Friday, there were no curfews or evacuation zones in place.

Tourists should stay in close contact with their hotel management to know the evacuation zone in which their hotel is located. Depending on where the storm hits, hotels that are outside the evacuation zone may be safe places to stay. But staying at a coastal hotel in an area that will bear the brunt of the storm’s landfall is not a good idea, said Newman, who is also president of the South Florida tourism public relations firm Newman PR.

Tourists should contact hotel managers about whether they need to make other lodging arrangements.

“Do not wait until the last moment,” said Newman. “You don’t want to decide you’re relocating from a coastal hotel with tropical storm force winds blowing. The transportation may not be there anymore. Err on the side of caution. Shelter is nowhere near going to be as comfortable as that oceanside resort but you will be much, much safer.”

Hotels are preparing for the storm by determining which staff will remain on site and whether guests will be moved to other partner hotels. Marriott International said its Florida hotels in the predicted path of Hurricane Dorian are reviewing cancellation fees; it advised guests to check with individual locations.

“We are in close contact with local authorities, and will take guidance and direction from them as the situation warrants,” the company said in a statement. “We encourage those planning to travel to the storm area to check news updates for the most current information, and amend plans accordingly.”

Airbnb has an extenuating circumstances policy in place through Sept. 1 that waives cancellation fees for much of Florida. As the storm nears, the company may activate its Open Homes program that lets hosts offer their spaces for free.

Luggage storage company Bounce is offering 15 percent off to travelers in Miami with code HURRICANE or MIAMIHURRICANERELIEF.

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