Summer´s last fling
By MARK I. JOHNSON
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — As a stretch of surf was reopened to swimmers Thursday, local businesspeople said almost two weeks of shark incidents in Volusia County have nipped more than just a few surfers.
But with the Labor Day weekend approaching there are questions whether the holiday can help the tourist economy rebound from the publicity surrounding the encounters.
Ten people have reported being bitten by sharks in Volusia waters since Aug. 18, seven of them near Ponce de Leon Inlet in New Smyrna Beach. Beach officials closed the water for a mile south of the inlet to swimming and surfing for a week. That moratorium, reduced to half a mile Wednesday afternoon, was lifted Thursday morning.
About noon, officials on Anna Maria Island on Florida´s Gulf Coast closed their beaches to swimming for a short time after sharks were sighted feeding on baitfish near the area where an Illinois tourist was bitten Wednesday afternoon.
Kristi Herzberg, 29, was bitten on the arm while swimming on Coquina Beach. She suffered punctures to the inside of her right elbow and slashes on the underside of her lower arm.
Herzberg is the 28th person to be attacked in Florida waters this year, according to the International Shark Attack File. Twenty of the bites occurred in Volusia County.
County Council members welcomed the reopening news, announced Thursday morning at their meeting in DeLand, saying they wished it could have happened sooner.
"I hope the effect is to bring in the visitors we hoped for over the Labor Day weekend," Chairman Dwight Lewis said. "It´s been a financial burden on the hotel and motel and tourist industry. Hopefully we can get the information out and some of the people who canceled their plans will come back."
That would be good news for Richard Vyse of the New Smyrna Beach Holiday Inn and Suites, who is predicting about $30,000 less in revenue this year than would be normal for the final weekend of the summer.
He said at midweek he was looking at a 60 percent loss in reservations with only 30 percent of his 102 rooms filled for the weekend. However, by cutting the cost of a room by half to help attract customers, he said he´s been able to rebound somewhat.
"We will probably fill up for Saturday and Sunday," he said. "But in the past week occupancy has been off overall about 20 percent."
Southeast Volusia tourism officials are painting a slightly better picture than Vyse, saying a survey of 36 accommodations throughout the region showed only six had received cancellations for the weekend.
"That includes everyone -- condominiums and U.S. 1 motels, but the majority were oceanfront," said Debbie Ledbetter, inquiry services director with the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority.
The reaction to the sharks is mixed as well for service and retail industries.
Yaniv Ben-ishay, manager of the Palace Beach Shop on Flagler Avenue, said his business has been booming, particularly in shark-related items such as T-shirts and novelties.
"People have been real enthusiastic about this thing," he said. "I have heard of people having shark bite parties; they are dressing up like they have been bitten."
Down on Third Avenue at Tiro´s Beachwear, owner Michael Sharabani said he has seen a drop in some of his tourist business, but locals looking for shark items have helped pick up the slack.
North of Ponce Inlet, the impact has been mixed as well.
For the parasail industry, the closer you get to the inlet the bigger the loss.
According to Peter Petrov, owner of Blue Sky Parasail in Daytona Beach Shores, his business is down almost 70 percent over the same time last year.
"Normally we would fly 50 flights a day but it is down to only three or four," he said. "This has been going on since the media attention about New Smyrna Beach started up."
However, Petrov said he is optimistic he will be able to generate at least 35 fights per day during the holiday weekend, which will allow him to cover his costs.
In Daytona Beach, business is pretty normal despite the shark bites, said Paul Politis, president of the Beachside Merchants Association.
"It has not affected us as much as New Smyrna Beach in terms of retail," he said. "We are more nervous about the economy than the shark attacks."
Staff Writer Matt Grimison and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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