Tourism takes big hit from spill

October 25 2010 | Latest News
Study says impact could hit $22 billion

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
By Ed Anderson

Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Gulf Coast states from Texas to Florida could lose $22.7 billion in tourism dollars if negative perceptions of the area and continuing cleanup operations from the BP oil spill keep visitors away for three years, according to a recently released study.

The analysis, conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association, said that if the impact is limited to 15 months, the region could feel a $7.6 billion pinch.

A copy of the report was obtained from the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the state's chief tourism-promotion agency.

Melody Alijani, director of research and development for the department's Office of Tourism, said although the study was completed in late July, the most important thing the Oxford analysis shows is "there is always a residual effect to travel behavior" beyond the immediate event.

"That is something we need to keep in mind as we plan our marketing for the future," Alijani said Tuesday.

If the effects last for 15 months after the April spill, Louisiana is estimated to sustain a $700 million tourism hit; if the oil problem persists into 2013, the state is projected to lose about $2 billion in tourist spending, the study said. The biggest loser in both scenarios would be Florida, which could lose $6.3 billion in the 15-month scenario and up to $18.6 billion in the long term, the report said.

"Perceptions are critical to recovery," the report said. "In many instances, the impact of misperceptions on travel and tourism is greater than the effects of reactions to real disaster. Therefore, a critical part of the recovery strategy should include a robust communications and marketing plan for the region to both inform and motivate travel to the broadly-affected area."

The report said the hospitality industry has called for a "dedicated emergency marketing fund of $500 million as a means of reducing the medium- and long-term impact of the oil spill."

The study said that although the tourism losses have been concentrated where oil has come ashore, "tourists have shied away from the entire region in significant numbers." It said that based on visits to the website of TripAdvisor, a giant travel destination site that also features reviews of accommodations, hits to the Gulf Shores, Ala., site were down by 65 percent in July compared with the same period last year; down by 52 percent for Pensacola, Fla.; 14 percent off for Biloxi, Miss.; and 48 percent off for Destin, Fla.

The study said that even oil-safe areas like the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as well as much of the Florida Gulf Coast, showed declines, although the oil affected just the Panhandle area. The report said July hits to the TripAdvisor featuring destinations like Key Largo, Fla., and Fort Myers Beach, Fla., were off 14 percent and 29 percent, respectively from July 2009.