DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Businesses in this tourist mecca have a message for the thousands of motorcyclists who roar into town every spring and fall: You're loved and we want you back.
The campaign by the area's chamber of commerce and visitor's bureau is designed to counter a cacophony of complaints from some residents in this city of 70,000 over Bike Week, held each spring, and Biketoberfest, scheduled for Oct. 21 to 24.
"There isn't a city in the nation that wouldn't give their right arm for an event like this," said Bonnie Miller, a biker who serves on a committee that helped come up with the public relations push.
Some events were even being scheduled between Oct. 15 and 20, a few days before the festival's official Oct. 21 start, to help businesses hurt by the drop-off in visitors due to the recent hurricanes. Local beaches were badly eroded by Hurricanes Charley and Frances, and the storms forced the area's largest hotel, the Adam's Mark Daytona Beach Resort, to close its doors for maintenance until the end of the year. But officials say bikers should have no trouble finding lodging elsewhere, as most other hotels and tourist attractions were expected to be ready for the festival.
The public relations campaign encourages bartenders to wear buttons welcoming bikers. It also includes ads, run in motorcycle trade magazines and Web sites, featuring a man wearing a business suit but exposing his tattooed arm with the text, "There's a little biker in all of us."
Business leaders hope to educate residents about how bikers benefit both the local economy and charities.
"Our message is, 'We appreciate your business and we're glad you're here'," said Kevin Kilian, a vice president of The Chamber, Daytona Beach & Halifax Area.
Daytona Beach has always drawn bikers - not only out-of-towners who come to the festivals, but also many residents who moved here from other parts of the country because of the numerous biker-friendly bars and stores in the community.
A 2001 study by a University of Central Florida professor showed that the biker events had a $744 million economic impact on Daytona Beach, by far the largest of the city's "special events." That's significantly more than the $561 million generated by the Daytona 500 and the Pepsi 400 at the Daytona International Speedway, the $196 million from spring break and the $145 million from the annual Black College Reunion gathering.
Many of those who live near Main Street, where visiting bikers often create impenetrable gridlock, say they aren't against the bikers themselves.
"The bikers are just as welcome here as can be, but the noise is not," said Bill Lane, vice chairman of a neighborhood association. "There is more bikers can do about the noise."
Along Main Street at the Boot Hill Saloon, a popular biker hangout where women's bras hang above the bar and bikers are prohibited from wearing certain patches to prevent fights among rival clubs, patrons praised the effort.
"I've always felt welcomed here, but if they crack down on something like this, they should close that racetrack because that's just as noisy," said Bill Baker, a biker from Kingsport, Tenn., referring to the city's famed speedway.
"Any time you get a quarter-million motorcycles together, you're going to get some noise," added Tom Guest, who operates Choppers World, a Main Street motorcycles parts and accessories store.
During Bike Week last spring, police issued 504 tickets for muffler violations, punishable by a $44 fine, and 24 notices to appear in court for the misdemeanor offense of revving the engine while not moving. That offense is punishable by a $500 fine or 60 days in jail, although most violators ended up paying $103.
By comparison, the year before, 359 muffler violations were issued and a single engine-revving notice were issued.
From his Harley-Davidson store on Main Street, John Craig noticed police officers issuing more citations than usual to bikers with "loud pipes" on their motorcycles and women flashing their breasts.
"People come here to have a good time and spend money," Craig said. "And then when it costs them money, they don't feel welcome."
City officials recently have been trying to clean up the area's image, backing a multimillion-dollar transformation of several blocks of the city's oceanfront to appeal to a more upscale clientele. Upscale retailers, high-rise timeshares and resort hotels have replaced mom-and-pop motels and T-shirt shops.
The cleanup effort has included attempts to limit rowdy behavior at spring break and Black College Reunion through a campaign that Mayor Yvonne Scarlett-Golden launched. The campaign asked visitors to follow a code of conduct and placed garbage can sleeves emblazoned with "It's all about respect" around the city.
The mayor hopes to extend the "respect" idea to the biker events.
"We've got to make residents be able to accept that Daytona Beach is a place where bikers are extremely interested in coming," Scarlett-Golden said.
If You Go...
BIKETOBERFEST: Main events Oct. 21 to 24, with a few activities Oct. 15 to 20. Schedule, help in finding accommodations and other information at www.biketoberfest.org or call (866) 296-8970.
DAYTONA BEACH: General tourism information from www.daytonabeachcvb.org or (386) 255-0415.
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