Worries by tourists that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill might reach Pinellas beaches are starting to cost local hotels business.
Two St. Pete Beach properties — the TradeWinds Island Resorts and the Alden Beach Resort — each had a handful of customers cancel reservations this week. The number of lost reservations is small, but they highlight a major concern.
"What it says to me is just the possibility of oil coming here is already having a big impact," said Tim Bogott, chief executive of the TradeWinds, which has 800 rooms at two locations. "Until we get word this is under control, it could be very serious." About 10 customers canceled reservations, he said.
The 143-suite Alden lost four bookings since Wednesday from customers who told hotel reservation agents the spill prompted them to look elsewhere. Ten others canceled reservations made through online booking services.
"We're making the assumption those are related" to the spill, said manager Tony Satterfield. Total business gone: 66 room nights worth $6,948. He assumes some potential customers are writing off Florida for their summer vacations.
"How many people are picking up the phone and saying, 'Let's go to North Carolina, let's go to South Carolina?' " Satterfield wondered.
Pinellas tourism promoters hadn't heard of other hotels losing reservations. The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce sent scripts for hotel employees to use when customers and callers ask about the spill.
"All indications from experts in our immediate area state that it is unlikely our area will be affected … for the foreseeable future," it reads. "Though we cannot guarantee weather, winds or currents, the Gulf Coast is open for business as usual."
On Friday, the county's tourism bureau put videocamera views of Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach on its website (visitstpeteclearwater.com).
Some hotels might actually get a boost from the disaster. This week, BP was trying to locate a command center in the Tampa Bay area to oversee its spill response.
A meeting planner representing the oil company wanted to book 300 rooms and 40,000 square feet of meeting space for five weeks, said Bogott. The TradeWinds couldn't open up enough space, so the planner shopped locations in downtown Tampa.
Pinellas hotel officials balked that with their beaches at risk, BP should spend its money in the county. By midday Friday, the deal was clear as mud. Conference Direct, the planner, was no longer representing BP, said Pinellas tourism director D.T. Minich, and he couldn't find out who was.
The convention sales director for Hillsborough County's quasi-public tourism agency e-mailed his Pinellas counterpart Friday that the meeting planner was saying Gov. Charlie Crist had ordered BP to put the center in St. Petersburg.
Crist is encouraging BP to "have a presence in Florida," said Sterling Ivey, Crist's press secretary. But the governor isn't pushing for a specific location, he said,
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.