FORT MYERS -- Lee County school officials said they were concerned about terrorism when they decided to keep a high school band from marching in a London parade, but now angry British officials are telling travelers that Fort Myers is no safe haven, either.
Local tourism officials fear the dispute could cost Lee County millions in lost tourism dollars, and even Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has commented on the dispute. - Lakeland Ledger
In 2005, Lee welcomed 199,332 European visitors, of which 40 percent were from the U.K.
British parade officials, angered by Lee schools' claim that London is dangerous, have fired back by warning Brits that Fort Myers is no safe haven, either, and perhaps they should think twice before visiting here.
D.T. Minich, executive director for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, believes what started as a disappointed band could spawn a cross-Atlantic spat with devastating impacts on local tourism, including the potential for losing millions in tourism dollars.
"It's not a Fort Myers thing; it's a U.S. vs. U.K. thing," Minich said. "We're a great destination, the exact type of destination that European travelers want.
"The school board's opinions certainly don't reflect the tourism industry's opinions. It's embarrassing."
Everyone from heartbroken band students to tourism officials to Britain's consular general in Atlanta have questioned the rationale in canceling the trip. School officials stand by their decision, though, even refusing a free trip to London to review the city's security and anti-terrorism procedures.
That flat-out refusal to reconsider, or even talk, is what's ticking off British authorities. The parade, which is supported by London city leaders and the country's top government officials, issued a scathing statement Friday to The News-Press; British media are expected to publish the note Monday.
"Here is an educator that seems to delight in the knowledge that he is ignorant of the facts," said Robert Bone, the parade's executive director.
Schools superintendent James Browder says he will not be pressured when it comes to student safety and is encouraging Fort Myers High's band to find a comparable event within the safe borders of the U.S.
The same district executive team has approved student trips to New York City and Washington, D.C., but Browder says our government has taken the proper steps to ensure safety of Americans.
"The chance of it happening here is less likely than somewhere else," Browder said. - News Press
UPDATE, April 4: If parade organizers aren't able to sway Browder, they'll either seek to bring over Fort Myers students on an unsanctioned trip, or find a replacement band. Another Florida band already has offered to go in lieu of Fort Myers.
Browder on Monday declined an interview request from The News- Press, and also rebuffed another attempt to meet with parade officials, either on British soil or on Browder's turf.
Lee schools communications director Joe Donzelli said succinctly about Browder, "He's done with this issue" and moved on to other subjects.
(Lee snub of parade gets world attention)