Beaches Catch on as Vacation Destination; Some Hotels Were Booked for Labor Day Specials, and National Promotions Are Gearing Up

Article excerpt

Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

Maryanne Burke, from Long Island, N.Y., lathered sunscreen on her 5-year-old daughter Oola by the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa pool in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Tim Sweeney and Cathy Young, from St. Louis, unpacked the trunk of their car at the Quality Suites in Jacksonville Beach and carried ice, drinks and snacks up to their room.

A little further north up the beach, Marlo Salisbury from Atlanta took a sip of a frothy white concoction by the Comfort Inn pool, settling in for a holiday weekend bachelorette party with about 15 friends.

"The guys went fishing and we're having a girls' land cruise this weekend," said Salisbury's friend Jane Buchanan of Marietta, Ga.

Up and down the Beaches, as Labor Day weekend got underway, hotels and motels were booked with guests from Florida, Georgia and beyond.

It's been a good summer for tourism and the fall looks promising as well, tourism experts say.

Even though Tropical Storm Ernesto threatened in the beginning of the week, few vacationers cancelled advance reservations.

Weekend package rooms were sold out. Many people called to inquire about booking rooms at the last minute.

And Marriott manager Jeffrey Oliasami was pleased.

"We're trying to promote the area to get more tourism here," said Oliasami, who is also president of the Ponte Vedra Beach Chamber of Commerce. "We're trying to put Ponte Vedra on the map, not just for golf."

The St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau is also promoting the area nationally. While many hotel and bed and breakfast guests are coming from South Florida, the visitors bureau will be promoting the area nationally as an ideal place for "upscale romantic getaways," said spokeswoman Barbara Golden.

In February , the agency plans to hold a reception in New York City for national magazines and broadcast companies. …