Don’t Write off Florida This Summer—Despite the Oil Spill

Don’t let the Gulf oil spill cancel your summer vacation in Florida. But keep yourself flexible and don’t feel compelled to pony up big deposits or prepaid fees for hotel accommodations—you don’t need to. There will be plenty of vacancies to go around this summer, and with those vacancies come reasonable rates.

Florida is a big state with two huge coastlines. The chances of oil sullying all or most of them is nil.

At present, the Florida coast most at risk is the Panhandle—from Pensacola through Fort Walton Beach to Panama City. But even there, oil has not yet reached the beaches in any significant amount. Further down the Gulf coast, from Clearwater to Sarasota, Naples, and Marco Island, hotel keepers are still hopeful they may eke out a good summer season, although many are offering discounted rates and very flexible cancellation policies. You may find some excellent deals here and you don’t need to make large deposits to hold down your reservations.

Offer one- or two-night deposits, and then if you see there is a looming threat, you haven’t lost too much even if the hotel owners get uncooperative—which is not very likely because they’ll want you back next year.

To date, hotels on the east coast have not shown any panic about the prospect of oil invading their beaches and they are staying less flexible about offering discounts beyond what they have already done. Many have said the bad economy has already forced them to drop their prices this year and there is only so low they can go. They too have expenses, staff, and suppliers to satisfy. In any case, they have suffered few cancellations and they expect a reasonable summer. Still, that’s no reason for you to take the first offer that comes your way. Do a little bargaining and you may find some excellent rates available for properties all along the east coast.

One tip: If you’re flying to Florida, rent a car and stay flexible. Don’t allow yourself to remain hostage to one hotel if you find conditions change and you want to move on. If you’re driving to Florida, your flexibility is built in.

Trip cancellation insurance is always a good thing to have—but unless you have “Cancel for Any Reason” or “Change of Mind” clauses in your policy, don’t count on them to do you much good in the present circumstances. They would only work if your hotel shut down, or some other catastrophe closed down the area you were planning to visit. And even “Cancel for Any Reason” policies will only cover a portion of your prepaid, non-refundable fees. They won’t cover the other expenses you have put into your trip—like gasoline money or overnight fees at hotels on your way to Florida or back home.

Stay loose. Stay flexible. Prepay as little as you can get away with. Don’t be shy about bargaining for better rates. Remember that TV camera crews love to show you the worst; normalcy is of no interest to them. In fact, most beachside hotels are still running normally.

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