An interview with Ina Lee, president of TravelHost Media Group
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Ina Lee, president of TravelHost Media Group and publisher of TravelHost Fort Lauderdale.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
As someone who lives and works in South Florida, what kind of climate-related changes have you seen over the years?
Well I’ve been here for about 45 years, and back then no one was talking about sea-level rise, let alone climate change, and we weren’t having rainy-day flooding. We weren’t having massive hurricanes that stayed for days. So things are very different and over time, obviously, we’re dealing with all that stuff on an amplified basis right now.
How have climate change and sea-level rise affected the Florida travel industry?
The tourism industry hasn’t been affected yet, but it will be unless we deal with this, because tourism obviously is our number one lifeblood. But if we keep on flooding, having massive hurricanes, having images posted around the world, people are not going to want to come here, or move here, or invest here. And that’s the long-term impact of this.
How is the travel industry adapting to these challenges?
I don’t think it’s the travel industry so much. I’d like to focus on the business industry, because that’s really what got me going with this. I was asked by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber back in 2015-16 to chair the resiliency initiative. And back then, no one was talking about this.
Now obviously, the experts were, but clearly not the business community. Because I’m a lay person—I’m not a scientist, I don’t know about this stuff—I brought experts to the table. And they started educating us, but it was a scientific conversation.
And what was missing was the general public, including the business community’s interest in the subject at all. No one was talking about it. So what I took on and what the community took on in the beginning was creating awareness, bringing it to the forefront. But it wasn’t until the business community got woken up by experts about what was going to happen to our insurance rates and mortgages that they woke up.
What can local leaders and decision-makers do to help?
Number one, we need to come together as a united voice, and I mean regionally. This is not just a Broward County issue, or Miami issue, or even a South Florida issue.
So we need a unified message. We need to bring that to the federal government, because they really have the funds to deal with this. And obviously our state government, which finally has made some progress with the monies that are now earmarked toward resiliency, and obviously our local leaders.
So people need to, when they even go to vote, they need to ask the questions: What are you doing about sea-level rise and resiliency? Because this is a long-term conversation. I just went to my grandson’s kindergarten graduation. It’s going to affect him, and that’s really the issue here, because unless you see it, the water coming up to your front door, you don’t think about it. It’s not on your front burner.
We need to put pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers to fund the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project re-study. By the way, the Army Corps canals and pumps, you know the reason Sawgrass Mills flooded years ago and had to close down — they’re not on the ocean, they’re inland — but those pumps are failing, and that’s going to impact drinking water in West Broward, it’s going to impact life as we know it.
The Army Corps is the only one that can do anything about it, because they’re the ones that put in the system. But it’s antiquated and those pumps are failing. So those are urgent things right now.
[We need to make] sure the governor and the state continue to put maximum dollars into the water management system. I don’t understand why they rolled back that tax. We need to amplify those funds, number one, and then when we go to Washington D.C., we need to make this a priority.
We need to make sure that we’re putting the right people in office to do something about it. We need money. We’re talking about billions and billions and billions of dollars. And where’s the money coming from? It can’t come from Broward County. It can’t even come all from the state. We got a blessing because of the federal dollars that just got allocated, but in the future we’re going to need a lot more to deal with the infrastructure we need to correct the situation. Otherwise, life as we know it, and why we all live here, will never be the same.
What tips can you give someone looking for greener, more sustainable travel options in South Florida?
As you travel, be aware. Take care of the resources while you’re here. Be respectful of the environment. Don’t leave trash on the beach. Don’t use plastics. Don’t leave plastics on the beach. You see litter, pick it up.
So I think those are things that an individual person can do, but also when you go home to wherever you come from, this is not just a South Florida issue, this is a national emergency long-term. And quite frankly, it’s the number one issue that we need to deal with as a planet right now. The numbers are staggering in terms of what’s going on with ice caps melting and the future. We are reaching that tipping point right now.
We’re talking about the Paris Accord right now. We’re ready to surpass those numbers, and there’s not much time left. So the kids need to be educated, the parents need to make sure people are going into elected offices that really care about this issue and are going to put it on the forefront.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Ina Lee.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.