CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. - Motel owners on Clearwater Beach say a murder 55 miles away -- in Sarasota -- may ruin tourism all summer because of publicity 4,437 miles away -- in England.
Many small mom and pop motels cater to British tourists looking for a holiday visit of a month or more. Ken Christman runs the Golden Villa Motel on Clearwater Beach. The motel has fourteen rooms, and no employees other than he and his wife. Half of his business from May to September consists of British tourists.
When Christman heard about the murders of two British tourists he was immediately worried. "Very concerning because we went through this with the oil spill," said Christman. "You know, perception is 9/10 of the game, so if they have a bad perception, it doesn't really bode well."
A 16-year-old Sarasota boy was charged with the murders of 25-year-old James M. Cooper and 24-year-old James Thomas Kouzaris, Sarasota police Capt. Paul Sutton said.
Their deaths made headlines across Great Britain. "Two Britons shot dead during Florida holiday in notorious gang area," read one headline in The Guardian . The Daily Telegraph : "Florida police investigate shooting of two Britons." It was a front page story in the London Times and the most popular story for much of the weekend on the BBC website .
Kathleen De-Bruyn sat in the shade of the two-story motel that flies he Union Jack. Kathleen is one of the many British tourists who stay at the Echo Sails Motel on Clearwater Beach. She is convinced the publicity from the murders will scare away tourists.
"I have a brother who still won't come to Florida because of the rest stop murders a few years ago," said De-Bruyn. She was referring to the the robbery and murder of a British tourist at a rest stop on Interstate 10 near Tallahassee in 1993. "It's still in the back of their heads. A murder is a murder," De-Bruyn said. "People don't want to come on holiday and be killed. Of course people are going to stay away. It's natural."
The area's tourism bureau, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, doesn't believe it will be that bad. "We have not had one call of concern," said spokesman David Downing.
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