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Robert Trigaux

How oil-stained is Florida global brand? Enough to cost state billions, thousands of jobs



oilsoakedbirdbpoilspill.jpgWake up and good morning. How do you fight this image? Is the global perception of Florida's beaches -- still the key worldwide brand (along with Disney in Orlando) -- still tainted by the BP oil spill disaster? Many Florida business leaders think so and argue it has to be fixed, fast, before Florida's brand gets stained by just the mention of tar balls.

Florida tourism leaders made their pitch in an online webinar Thursday afternoon that, while the BP gulf oil spill may be plugged, the damage to state tourism remains widespread. Misperceptions by Americans are too common, tourism officials argued, that oil has landed on many beaches in the state -- no matter where they are -- and those distorted views must be fixed with more advertising dollars. Funded, preferably in this budget-stricken economy, from BP. Here's the Orlando Sentinel take on it.

WillSeccombevisitfloridamarketingchief.jpgPresentations by Visit Florida CEO Chris Thompson and marketing chief Will Seccombe (photo, right) cited recent surveys indicating how a significant minority of Americans think Florida's beaches are befouled. The state tourism agency cited a July 21st study by the Conde Nast Traveler Research Center that asked its readers where oil was present on the shores of Florida’s beaches, they responded saying there was oil on the Panhandle (Destin- 58%, Panama City – 63% and Pensacola – 73%). But readers also incorrectly said oil was on west coast beaches from St. Pete to the Florida Keys (16%), South Florida from Miami to Palm Beach (8%) and all the way up the east coast from Daytona to Amelia Island (5-6%).

Blogged Seccombe: "The result of the misperception of oil on Florida’s beaches is that a significant number of leisure travelers are less likely to visit Florida now versus before the spill." Here's his complete posting.

Visit Florida cited another survey by a report from Orlando-based Ypartnership that found significant percentages of travelers were less likely to visit the following beach destinations in July and August of this year:

Pensacola: -28%
Destin/Ft. Walton Beach: -27%
Panama City Beach: -27%
Jacksonville Beach: -23%
Amelia Island/North Florida Beaches: -23%
Sarasota/Bradenton: -22%
Naples/Marco Island: -22%
St Petersburg/Clearwater: -21%
Miami Beach: -21%
Cocoa Beach/Space Coast: -20%
Ft. Lauderdale: -20%
St. Augustine: -19%
Florida Keys: -18%

Whoa. My initial question after looking at these stats is: Do Americans have any clue about Florida's geography?

According to Seccombe, if Florida loses just 5 percent of annual visitors as a result of the oil spill, the economic consequences would equate to $3 billion in lost visitor spending, $1.8 billion in lost sales tax collections and 48,000 lost jobs.

Here's the trick. Even if BP coughs up more dough for tourism advertising, what exactly does Florida want to say in those ads? "Our beaches are clear" works well for the short term. But I wonder -- given the possibility of lingering oil in the gulf for years -- if our ad messages will need to send different messages as the environmental impact of BP's spill gains clarity. And will BP still be around, shelling our marketing dollars, when that time comes?

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist


[Last modified: Friday, August 27, 2010 7:06am]


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