Oil Spill Fuels Tourist Misconceptions and Fewer Visits

Oil Spill Fuels Tourist Misconceptions and Fewer Visits

In final part of a four-part series on how the BP oil spill is affecting the Gulf region, BlackEnterprise.com looks at the effects on the tourism industry.

The Hubbard Mansion is an 11-year-old bed and breakfast that offers guests the ultimate New Orleans experience. But since the BP oil spill, business is down by approximately 30%. An August wedding that would have featured a jazz band and Mardi Gras Indian chiefs has been canceled and the telephone isn’t ringing like it did during the past two summers, said proprietor Don Hubbard.

The irony is that the city’s ambiance and culture are as vibrant as ever, but the grim images featured on most nightly newscasts are causing vacationers to go elsewhere or stay home.

“We’ll never have enough money to buy advertising or put together a major PR campaign to counteract that,” said Toni Rice president of the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network.

New Orleans recently had an influx of visitors attending the Essence Music Festival and a National Education Association conference, but it’s the future that worries Rice most. Organizations that have already scheduled major events there, or may be considering it, are wondering how long the problem will last and whether they should choose another city, Rice said.

“Much of the negative impact that [we’re] experiencing is more from misconceptions concerning the oil spill and its impact than reality,” explained Jim Hutchinson, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Office of Tourism. The areas most adversely affected are the coasts that depend on activities related to sports fishing and boating, which have been significantly curtailed.

Hotels housing clean-up workers are enjoying an economic boon, but when those workers go home, Hutchinson said, the hotels are going to experience “tough times” because they’ve been unable to sell future bookings.

According to Rubincon, which collects forward-looking data from major hotels, the Florida Panhandle accurately illustrates the spill’s effect on Gulf tourism. For the period July-December 2010, bookings are is down 14.2% from the same period last year, while leisure and business traveler reservations are down 20.9%.

Two-thirds of Louisiana visits are making repeat trips, so the tourism office’s website features a commercial titled “You Can Still Play in Louisiana,” which aims to reassure visitors that little has changed. The state tourism board sites for Louisiana and Florida also include regular spill updates. If prospective visitors still have concerns, Hutchinson said, “Call us. We just want people to make an informed decision.”

More in the series:
Gulf Coast Small Businesses Worried About Their Futures
Oil Spill May Hasten Deterioration of Louisiana’s Ecosystem
Prospects for Offshore Drilling Diminish in Wake of Oil Spill