Round-up: Florida tourism crimp begins as ad campaign tries to motivate visitors
Wake up and good morning. So the fact that after more than a month, the massive oil spill still is not directly hitting Florida beaches should be at least some cause for celebration, yes? Unquestionably, but the oil spill there is still putting a hurt on tourism here, as this round-up of recent news stories indicates. (Photo: Beach clean-up from spill in Port Fourchon, La., by Getty Images.)
A new survey of travelers by AAA Auto Club South suggests few, if any, of those planning trips to Florida's gulf coast during the next year have changed their plans because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But what about now?
* Florida hotel operators say phone calls and internet inquiries have dropped off though no oil has touched a Florida beach. They assume travelers either don't understand or don't want to risk a trip to an oil-stained beach. As Bruce Craul, chief operating officer of the company that owns the Emerald Grande resort in Destin on the Florida Panhandle, told the St. Petersburg Times in this story:
"This is the best analogy. You don't go to Las Vegas when there's a pending dealer strike.''
* The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association told the Wall Street Journal last week that it estimates occupancy rates already are down 30 percent from a year ago along roughly 100 miles of Panhandle beaches between Pensacola and Panama City — the northwest portion of the state closest to the spill and which attracts most of its tourists between May and August.
* Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard expressed disappointment with BP and the Obama administration last week. As noted by the weekly Tampa Bay Newspapers, he said even if the spill does not hit Pinellas County but hits somewhere in Florida, "people don’t understand our geography," he said, adding:
"There’s not the loss of life that (Hurricane) Katrina had, but from an economic standpoint, this could be several magnitudes greater. … The multiplier (effect) of this is incalculable. It could ruin this state."
* In a USA Today travel story, some vacationers "seem to be removing Gulf destinations from their list of vacation possibilities," says an exclusive analysis of TripAdvisor search data for Hotel Check-In. Searching hotels and destination is typically an early step in the vacation planning process, the story says.
A new ad campaign, paid for mostly from $25 million in funds provided by BP, will try to tell the world that Florida beaches are still oil free and worthy of vacation plans. We'll be tracking the tourism scene closely.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist