Bigger Beach, Better View After Hugo, Tourist Industry Says

PUERTO RICO is offering free first-class tickets and a week at a luxury hotel to travel writers. South Carolina will start advertising its historic district and beaches earlier than normal. At least one hotel in the Virgin Islands is trumpeting the news that Hurricane Hugo lengthened its beach. These are some of the ways that the tourism industry - a significant part of the economy along most of Hugo's path - is struggling to entice sun-lovers back to the cays and lagoons.

As part of this strategy, the Virgin Islands are offering money-back guarantees of satisfaction to hesitant vacationers. American Airlines is slashing fares to the Caribbean. Miguel Domenech, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, notes that the island, which earns $1.04 billion a year from tourism, will be emphasizing the bargains available to tourists visiting Puerto Rico in an advertising campaign.

South Carolina is also planning to begin a beefier advertising campaign for next year. Bill Lawrence, Deputy executive director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for the state, says the state was fortunate that 80-85 percent of this year's $4.6 billion in tourism revenues was already in the bank.

The hurricane has posed a touchy marketing problem for the officials. They do not want to diminish its gravity, yet they want to maintain a business-as-usual demeanor.

Eric E. Dawson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development and Agriculture of the Virgin Islands, says that cancellations occured only within the first two weeks after the hurricane. He believes that the Virgin Islands will have no problem being ready for the beginning of their peak tourist season starting in December. Tourism accounted for $675 million in revenue for the islands last year.

Some officials try to make a virtue of the destruction. Leona Bryant, a tourism official in the Virgin Islands, notes: ``We have more beautiful vistas because the hurricane knocked trees down.''

At one hotel, Hugo added a 150-foot strip of sand to the shoreline. ``Because of the hurricane we can now boast about having 900 feet of beach,'' says Frank Rodriguez, General Manager of the Elysian Hotel in St. Thomas on the Virgin Islands.

Adriane J. Dudley, president of the Virgin Islands Chamber of Commerce, promises that tourists will find bargains. ``The shops in the Virgin Islands are slashing their prices on everything,'' says Ms. Dudley. ``There are some great sales going on.''

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