Gulf Tourism Goes On the Offensive
A Greenpeace marine biologist’s hands are covered in oil after surveying the mouth of the Mississippi River last week.
According to an article this morning in USA Todayarticle this morning in USA Today, TripAdvisor has recently analyzed its search data for activities, restaurants, and accommodations in the Gulf Coast area and found that they have been searched significantly less in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
No surprise there. But states where the spill hasn’t even reached are starting to worry about their tourism industries. In today’s story in the Times-Journal, Alabama State Sen. Lowell Baron said he was very concerned about the spill’s effect on Alabama’s tourism revenue, even though the oil hasn’t and isn’t expected to reach the state’s coastline.
“Tourism has already been affected and will only decline in the weeks and months to come,” says Barron. “Marketing experts are predicting the damage to the entire Gulf Coast tourism industry will exceed $750 million–and that’s just one industry.”
He told the newspaper, “In response to canceled trips and reservations, restaurants, hotels and other businesses that are usually bustling with visitors this time of year are cutting back services and laying off workers. And almost 20 percent of federal waters in the gulf has been closed to fishing, already greatly impacting the Alabama seafood industry.”
Meanwhile, states with coastlines that have already been hit or are threatened by the spill have been ramping up efforts to salvage tourism revenue.
Rescue workers carefully clean an oil-soaked northern gannet bird at a facility in Fort Jackson, Louisiana.
Louisiana tourism officials expect to take a hit over Memorial Day weekend, and are actively steering potential visitors to festivals, events, and activities
that will be taking place in the nine coastal parishes that are unaffected by the spill. The public beach on Grand Isle, a popular summer hotspot, has been closed to tourists as conservationists work to clean up the onslaught of oil that’s begun washing up onshore.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau is “open for business” with its beaches untouched, and gambling resorts still open, according to their website (though one questions the timing of their $75 “Gas Up and Getaway” package). Their executive director told the Gainesville Times that their efforts to keep people informed have resulted in a “slowdown in the number of cancellations.”
The Montgomery Advertiser reports
that fishing charter operators and area residents are frustrated by rumors that spread last week that Alabama’s governor had closed the state’s 32 miles of beaches. The State Tourism Board has launched a $1.5 million campaign to let people know “nothing has changed,”
reassuring potential visitors that the oil–and the accompanying smell–has not struck the coast. And the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau plans to begin providing live webcams on their website, www.gulfshores.com, to give people a first-hand look at the pristine shoreline.
Florida is also offering webcams to assure potential visitors that its beaches are clean, but that’s just part of its offensive. Yesterday, Governor Charlie Crist announced
- Nat Geo Expeditions
that BP have given the state $25 million to bolster tourism and keep people informed about the status of Florida’s beaches. The AP reports
that the state has purchased radio advertising across the country and a full-page ad in USA Today, and Crist noted that the campaign will also incorporate social marketing, television ads and online advertising, all in the hopes of getting out the word that “our coast is clean and our beaches are open.”
Although many state officials are combating the effects of this oil spill wholeheartedly, its impact has become viral, spreading from the environment to the industries sustained by it, effecting places where the oil hasn’t even reached. Will your vacations to places in the Gulf Coast area continue as planned? Or will you steer your TripAdvisor searches to places far removed from the murky waters?
–Janelle Nanos and Christina Conrad
Above, photograph by Hans Deryk, Reuters; Below, photograph by Alex Brandon, AP