Florida Keys hopes snowy weather boosts tourism

While Julie Quirk shoveled foot-high snow off her driveway in Milwaukee last week, she reminded herself: "Just a few more days until we can get out of Dodge and go to the beach."

Her destination: tropical Key West.

"Nothing motivates people to come to the Florida Keys like cold weather and snow," said Andy Newman, head of public relations for the Keys' tourism bureau. "It's the best marketing in the world, the best."

For the island chain, where tourism is the biggest industry, thermostats dipping well below freezing and early snowstorms and ice storms across much of the United States could not come at a better time.

Christmas week triggers the beginning of the Keys' main tourist season, the make-or-break few months for many businesses in Monroe County.

"We were facing a grave tourism picture due to the economy," said Joe Harris, co-owner of the Kona Kai Resort and Gallery in Key Largo. "I'm hoping the effect of the bad weather in the rest of the country will wipe out the effect of the bad economy and keep our occupancy up during these tough economic times."

Jackie Harder, president of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, said traditionally, bad weather in the rest of the country has resulted in bigger flocks of snowbirds coming south to thaw out and spend money.

She does not apologize for her glee when looking at recent weather maps.

"Down here, we always wish for a brutal winter up north and in the Midwest," Harder said. "The weather is cooperating for us. We call it Chamber of Commerce weather in reverse."

To read the complete column, visit The Miami Herald .