State Surveys Potential Regional Tourists

July 27 2010 | Latest News

The state's tourism agency surveyed 903 potential tourists to find out if the oil spill has affected any of their plans.

July 25, 2010

By Ed Anderson

BATON ROUGE -- Seventeen percent of potential regional tourists have indicated they have canceled or delayed a trip to Louisiana because of the ongoing oil spill and pollution problems resulting from the Deepwater Horizon-BP rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a study commissioned by the state's tourism agency.

Melody Alijani, director of research and development for the tourism office in the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said the survey was taken among 903 residents of the state's regional tourist markets that stretch from San Antonio, Texas, to Pensacola, Fla.

The survey, taken by Market Dynamics Research Group of New Orleans, said that before the spill, 44 percent of those surveyed indicated they planned to visit the state. After the rig accident, 17 percent canceled or postponed plans because of the spill, and 83 percent indicated they still would travel to the Pelican State.

Alijani said the survey was taken from June 18-21, about two months after the rig blew and 11 workers were killed and millions of barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf.

In a separate national survey of 1,000 consumers in May, 23 percent of those surveyed said they had plans to visit the state but 26 percent of those put their visits on hold or canceled them because of the rig disaster.

BP has given $15 million to the state for tourism promotion efforts. State Secretary of Culture, Recreation and Tourism Pam Breaux divided the $15 million evenly among her office's tourism efforts, those of the city of New Orleans and coastal parishes hit hard by the spill.

Some of the $15 million also is paying for the survey and follow-up national and regional survey rounds.

Last year, officials said, 39 percent of the state's tourists came from regional markets, 37 percent were Louisiana residents who visited other parts of the state and 23 percent came from other regions.

The survey also showed that 88 percent of the potential regional tourists feel that the oil spill will have an impact on the state for at least two years.

Almost 23 percent responding said they think it will affect the state for 10 years or more, while only 4.2 percent said it will affect the state for less than a year. Almost 26 percent said they think the impact will be felt for five to 10 years, and 39.4 percent said they felt the rig disaster will have repercussions on the state for two to five years. Only 7.8 percent felt it would have a one-year effect.

The most negative feelings, according to the survey, came from respondents in the Mobile-Pensacola area who have dealt with tarball-spoiled beaches: 37.7 percent said they expect the spill problems to linger at least 10 years.

The May national survey indicated that 79 percent of the possible tourists believe the oil-spill problems will linger for at least two years.

The survey also showed that almost two-thirds of the potential regional tourists feel that the oil-spill problem is worse (42.7 percent) or just as bad (19.5 percent) as the devastation caused to Louisiana in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Again, the coastal residents of the regional market in the Mobile-Pensacola area, which has been battered by hurricanes in recent years, had the most negative feelings: almost 64 percent said they felt the spill is worse than the 2005 storms.

Nationally, 44 percent of those surveyed think the oil spill is as bad or worse than the 2005 hurricanes.

"The problem is the perception of what it has done," Breaux said. "Business is still happening except along the southeast coast. The battle is the perception," the same as it was three years after Katrina when tourists in some areas of the nation thought New Orleans and south Louisiana were still under water.

"There are people who think (the oil spill) affects New Orleans and the whole state," Breaux said. "We have to keep studying the perception. Everything is a moving target right now" with the oil flow being stemmed temporarily in the Gulf.

Breaux said to wage the "battle of perception," the state has launched an advertising campaign in the regional and national markets by buying air time on prime cable networks such as Bravo, the Food Network, the Learning Channel, the Travel Channel and others.

The ads will run through Labor Day, she said, and are coordinated with the New Orleans and coastal campaigns.

The survey also found that:

48 percent of those questioned in the regional market either believe or "are not sure" if restaurants that use Louisiana seafood are putting their customers at risk," despite constant media stories and promotions that state-produced seafood is inspected and still safe to eat.

About 28 percent of those who said they are now unlikely to visit the state would be more likely to visit if Louisiana wildlife such as birds and alligators "could be seen as they were before the oil spill."

About 39 percent of the national survey respondents believe the media have accurately reported the spill; 23 percent believe the story has been exaggerated, and 38 percent believe it has been downplayed by the media. In the regional survey, 38.4 percent believe the spill story has been accurately reported, 33.3 percent believe it has been downplayed, and 28.2 percent say the oil spill coverage has been exaggerated.

"The longer it takes to cap the well (permanently) . . . the longer it will take people to realize the coast is safe," Breaux said.

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