Tourist surveys conducted this summer by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and Orlando's YPartnership market researchers alarmed Florida tourism officials. Why? Way too many travelers and potential tourists held gross misperceptions that the BP gulf spill had deposited oil on many of the state's beaches — even those as far from the spill as Jacksonville and Amelia Island. • The resulting backlash, officials of the state's Visit Florida tourism agency say, is that too many tourists were avoiding Florida beaches because of those widely held, though inaccurate, beliefs. • "Well-informed travelers were remarkably misinformed about the oil spill," said Visit Florida marketing chief Will Seccombe. He and Visit Florida CEO Chris Thompson held an online conference call Thursday to explain Florida's tourism dilemma. The BP spill may be capped, the media frenzy may be easing, but Florida beaches have been broadbrushed — by global TV coverage and, frankly, many folks' poor sense of Florida geography — as tainted by oil. • Their bottom line? BP still needs to pay up with additional funding to repair the tourism damage. • Here are some highlights from their conversation:
How does Visit Florida and the tourism industry repair the damage of such adverse publicity from the BP spill?
For starters, by telling BP the state needs yet additional funding for advertising and marketing campaigns to tell the outside world that there is no oil now on Florida beaches, and along the vast majority of the state's coastlines, there never was any oil from the spill. Without the investment of significant marketing resources, the tourism industry in the Sunshine State will feel the negative effects for years to come.
What did the Conde Nast Traveler survey find from its readers?
When asked where oil was present on the shores of Florida's beaches, readers believed that there was oil on the Panhandle (Destin, 58 percent; Panama City, 63 percent; and Pensacola, 73 percent). But readers also incorrectly believed that there was oil on west coast beaches from St. Petersburg to the Florida Keys (16 percent), in South Florida from Miami to Palm Beach (8 percent) and all the way up the east coast from Daytona to Amelia Island (5 to 6 percent).
So, give us specifics. What happens if the BP oil spill does reduce Florida tourism?
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, $182.5 million in lost sales tax collections and 48,000 lost jobs.