Going over fiscal cliff could impact Florida's tourism industry

Lawmakers have yet to reach agreement

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - What happens in Washington, won't stay in Washington. Should the nation go off the fiscal cliff, every American business will be watching its wallet with uncertainty. The travel industry - Florida's top economic driver - would surely feel the impact.

Pat O'Kelley manages Palm Beach Hibiscus Bed & Breakfast in downtown West Palm Beach. "You worry; you worry about it because you don't know what's going to happen." He is riding high from 2012, the strongest year for Palm Beach County tourism since before the economic downturn. "Last year, was really the best year in several years," said O'Kelley. "So, I hope it gets better now."

But will it still get better, if federal lawmakers can't come to an agreement?

Going off the cliff could mean spending cuts and tax increases. Another potential pitfall, a tattered tourism market in the northeast - thanks to Superstorm Sandy.

County officials say New York and New Jersey visitors are a huge segment of the local tourism economy. Often what's first to be crossed off the family budget is a family trip. "People say 'We're not going to do it because the economy is so bad'," said O'Kelley of reluctant travelers.

The Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau is trying to plan for a prosperous future, despite what happens in Washington. The bureau has been dipping deeper into international markets, such as central and south America.

O'Kelley says he has been attracting foreign tourists for years to keep his bottom line intact. "A lot of Europeans," he said. "I've got two from the U.K. tonight."

A banner year behind him, O'Kelley, like many, is waiting for Washington to act so the money momentum and roll right into 2013. "Keep us going," he said. "Make it work."

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