News Analysis: Oil Perception Could Severely Hurt FloridaMay 11, 2010 By: Susan Young
Even if a drop of oil never touches Florida’s pristine beaches, the public perception of that happening could be devastating to the state’s $57 billion hospitality industry, which represents 20 percent of Florida’s economy, 3.4 billion in sales tax revenue, and 900,000 jobs.
Just how difficult is expected to be outlined this afternoon for the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works. Travel Agent obtained the written testimony of Keith Overton, senior vice president and COO, TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Petersburg, FL, and chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which represents 10,000 tourism entities.
His prepared remarks offer analysis and stunningly frank perspective on the current oil slick situation and why tourism officials are urging Congress to better control future drilling within Gulf of Mexico waters.
Adverse Effect on Florida’s White Sandy Beach Image
“Florida’s image has been consistently attractive for nearly a century and continues to create fond memories of sugary white sandy beaches, warm sunshine, blue waters, beautiful natural resources, fresh seafood and a variety of unique and fun attractions for everyone visiting,” said Overton. “The mere thought of oil rigs in the nearby waters off Florida’s shores and beaches changes this fantastic imagery instantly and permanently!”
Overton cited a 2008 study conducted by the Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater Convention & Visitors Bureau, in which the top five most influential factors in choosing a beachfront destination were a safe destination, beaches, environment, relaxation and sun tanning. Overton’s view: “It is clear that off-shore oil drilling along Florida’s shoreline, even absent a disaster such as the one that recently occurred, will negatively affect three of these attributes in immeasurable ways, costing Florida billions of dollars.”
He also said a soon to-be-released 2010 Portrait of American Travelers by YPartnership indicates that “beautiful scenery” and a “beach experience” are among top five factors considered important for American travelers interested in visiting Florida. “This further makes the point that Florida’s tourism will be materially affected by the disaster that continues to pour oil into the beautiful Gulf of Mexico,” said Overton.