Martin County tourism increases despite toxic water concerns

County credits harsh weather up north

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla.-- In the heart of tourism season, some Treasure Coast businesses are looking at record-breaking profits.

Just six months ago, toxic water concerns had some Treasure Coast businesses struggling to get by.

But now, some say they're springing back and experiencing one of their best tourism seasons in years.

Irene Gromes has owned The Driftwood Motel for more than a decade. This year, she didn't hold high hopes for the tourism season. "I really didn't expect a good season," Gromes said.

But, her occupancy list continues to grow. "It's been a lot better than expected." The best, she says, in five years.

This comes as a surprise as toxic water flushed out her business several months ago.

It also led to the closure of the Martin County Convention and Visitor's Bureau when the county didn't feel it was doing enough to promote tourism during the toxic water crisis.

But she's seen a change.

“As soon as it started getting so cold for a prolonged period of time the phones started ringing off the hook.”

Gomes says she's seeing an increase in visitors from the north, looking for some sunny skies after experiencing a frigid winter.

Gomes also recognizes efforts by the Martin County Parks and Recreation Department after it took over the Martin County Convention and Visitor's Bureau's responsibilities.

“We only promote the good venues we have in the county. We still have small town charm. We still have great parks,” said Martin County Parks and Recreation Director, Kevin Abbate.

Abbate says the county has seen a 24% increase in bed tax revenue compared to last year.

That's the main tool used to measure tourism in the county.

"Obviously, the weather up north has really helped our numbers," Abbate said.

But he says some credit should be given to the county's work to deflect the toxic water issue.

“I think the cold weather is more of the reason people have been driven out here more so than the advertising that they’re doing,” said Gomes.

But whatever is bringing more visitors to Martin County, Gomes hopes it continues into the final months of the season.

Gomes is also confident that her profits this year will help make up for her losses over the summer.

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