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Where The Oil Is And Is Not, And How To Tell
It’s as much a matter of perception as it is of oil.
Michelle Horne, VP of Nature and Tourism Communications in Corpus Christi tells me me that they have “65 miles of beaches waiting for you,” and Corpus Christi and Padres Islands have “NOT” been affected by the oil spill. “Texas tourism,” her release says, “reassures travelers not to cancel plans to visit the Lone Star State.’
Meanwhile Mississippi reports the spill could cost the state $120 million dollars in lost revenue from the state’s Coastal Areas, according to one study by the University of Southern Mississippi
Travelocity, the on line booking giant, notes that the average daily rate for hotels in the Gulf Region continues to free fall with a stay at Panama City, Florida, costing $96.00 a night, a steep decline from the pre-May 15 price of $125.00.
At the same time parts of the Gulf Coast, reports industry publication, Travel Weekly, continue to do well. Restaurants and hotels in New Orleans, according to Stephen Perry of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitor’s Bureau are having their best year since Katrina. The web sites boldly declares, “Tourism Remains Vibrant in New Orleans Despite Oil Spill.”
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel continue its campaign to address traveler misperceptions by airing nine, 30-second television spots in a campaign, Still Pristine, with the vids filmed, edited and aired in one day. It’s one of the few destination to use video as a crisis management tool.
So what’s happening goes beyond where the oil or tar balls actually are, and where the traveling public thinks they are.
Since perception is reality, what coastal vacation plans should travelers actually keep and which ones should they cancel?
What’s going on is what Travel Weekly calls, a “two front war” where efforts to contain the actual oil are matched by efforts to correct negative impressions and get accurate information to the public, not to mislead, but to affect public perceptions positively. And quickly.
A recent Capitol Hill briefing hears U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow call for “accurate information in the media and intelligent marketing and promotional efforts”
His web site also urged President Obama essentially to do more to get the Gulf Coast back on its feet.
Meantime, the tourism industry is torn between self interest and altruism.
Travelers are clearly opting to head elsewhere, away from the coasts and, say drive north from Florida to the Carolinas and Tennessee. This is good news for those states, but they don’t want to appear to be profiting at the expense of their colleagues’ misfortune.
Asheville, N.C., a popular tourist destination has become more so now with the oil alerts, and has launched an online campaign to raise funds to help the beleagured Gulf States to repair their damaged ecosystem.
And perennial favorite, Williamsburg, Virginia, is donating 10% of guest room rates to the National Wildlife Federation.
For its part, BP belatedly has distributed $70 million in aid to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana for tourism marketing fund, to spread better news about their destinations.
There’s always Alaska, as one tourism agency, with a short memory declared.
The travel industry is bravely doing the best that it can, and praying the oil geyser stops, letting the sea, the coasts and their businesses heal.