Mayor asks BP for marketing dollars

Posted on: June 18 2010 | Posted in: Latest News
Landrieu fears tourism losses

Mayor asks BP for marketing dollars

Landrieu fears tourism losses

Friday, June 18, 2010

By Michelle Krupa

Staff writer Times Picayune

Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Thursday sent a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward asking the company to give New Orleans $75 million over three years to mitigate the long-term effects of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill on tourism.

Flanked by tourism leaders and industry workers, Landrieu said local officials would use the cash to place newspaper, television and Internet ads to spread the message that New Orleans' attractions remain open despite the spill's catastrophic effects on the environment and on segments of the seafood and oil sectors.

Marketing efforts must begin immediately, Landrieu said, to combat the "billions of dollars in negative publicity" intrinsic to news coverage of the disaster.

"The negative impressions that are moving out across the airwaves through CNN and FOX are painting real pictures of what's occurring off of the coast -- but not all of the pictures of what's occurring on the streets of New Orleans," he said during a news conference at Gallier Hall. "The seafood today is safe and it's available. The jobs in Louisiana and in New Orleans are currently in play. The hotels are open. The restaurants are open. The musicians are playing. The conventions are here."

If people around the world want to help New Orleans battle the oil spill, "the best way for them to help us is to come down," Landrieu said.

While the cash request aims to prevent the decimation of the $5 billion tourism industry -- and its 80,000 jobs -- some damage already has been done.

''My customers used to come to me and ask me, 'How much is a dozen?' Now they come to me ask me where the oysters are from and if they're safe to eat," said veteran oyster shucker Michael "Hollywood" Broadway, who works at Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter.

Keeping the tourism sector humming is key to keeping local workers employed. Losing just 10 percent of the tourism business projected over the next eight months would mean a loss of about $500 million to New Orleans' economy and as many as 8,000 jobs, said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The oil spill is occurring at the worst possible moment for the New Orleans tourist industry, just as the rebound from Hurricane Katrina hits its peak, Perry said.

Officials are also concerned that despite BP's commitment to pay all legitimate claims related to the spill, the company may not pay for losses that can't be quantified because customers avoided the region, Perry said. He cited BP's denial of a lost-opportunity claim submitted in another state because the claimant could not prove a sale had been canceled. Perry wouldn't offer additional details.

"It's almost as if the damage has to be done before you have to remedy it," he said. "The phones that don't ring, the bookings that are not made, are more difficult. You can't record that."

Landrieu said BP could save money in the long run by financing a marketing campaign because fewer jobs will be lost, meaning fewer claimants sharing a victims fund that now stands at $20 billion. "If we don't do this, it could very well be that the claims will be much, much higher over a long period of time, and $20 billion won't come close to covering" losses, he said.

Landrieu's request is the first among local Gulf Coast officials for money to pay for tourism marketing. BP distributed $70 million in May to four states affected by the oil spill: $25 million to Florida, and $15 million each to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

New Orleans received a third of Louisiana's share, and has used it in part on a national newspaper and TV ad campaign.

In pushing his request, Landrieu noted that BP spent $50 million early this month for ads in newspapers and on radio, TV and the Internet that feature Hayward stating that his company understands its responsibilities to clean up the oil and compensate damaged parties.

"BP obviously believes in marketing. They obviously believe in doing a lot of it soon," the mayor said. "If they are going to spend $50 million in a week or two, it seems very reasonable to expect that they fund marketing programs on behalf of Louisiana, city ... and particularly the largest city that drives the economy of Louisiana as it relates to tourism."

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Michelle Krupa can be reached at mkrupa@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3312.

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