Both the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus (CTTC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce have been briefed on the ongoing BP oil crisis and its effects on the travel and tourism industry in the Gulf Coast region, according to Geoff Freeman, senior vice president of the U.S. Travel Association.
U.S. Travel has taken a leading role in confronting the ongoing crisis, Freeman told Travel Agent, and is urging coordinated action to avert an economic disaster for the industry and the region. This includes a summit held Friday with SouthCoast USA, a multi-state consortium of destinations and U.S. Travel.
“Cap the spill and contain the damage,” Freeman said of the key objectives, with U.S. Travel urging BP to grant $10 million in marketing and advertising funds to promote tourism to the region. “Travel and tourism is the economic engine of the region and BP is clearly responsible.”
One immediate need is better economic impact data from the Commerce Department, Freeman said. U.S. Travel also wants to keep Congressional awareness high among the CTTC members of the full long term impact of the crisis. U.S. Travel will also help educate effected businesses on how to file claims and coordinate responses to the disaster.
SouthCoast USA members include areas along Interstate 10 and the Gulf of Mexico and was organized to promote the region as one of America's top business and leisure destinations.
Roger Dow, U.S. Travel’s President and CEO, hosted Friday’s tourism summit at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front Hotel and urged travelers to visit the region. U.S. Travel estimates that $94 billion is spent annually on travel and tourism in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi— the states directly impacted by the oil spill.
Tourism bureau officials from each SouthCoast USA destination said they have signed a joint letter requesting BP to grant $10 million in marketing and advertising funding designated for the purpose of promoting tourism to the region.
"Tourism is our livelihood, particularly in the summer months, and the best way for Americans to help support the Gulf Coast during this difficult time is to plan a trip to the region," said Mike Foster, chairman of SouthCoast USA. "Our destinations are rich in unique attractions and a southern hospitality experience that you will never forget. I encourage all summer travelers to make a difference and make the trip."
"We're working closely with Gulf Coast tourism officials because it's not too late to cap the damage to travel and save the 1 million jobs travel generates in the four Gulf Coast states impacted by this spill," said Dow. "Travel is dependent on perceptions, and the greatest threat to the travel community here is the lost opportunity if travelers don't fully understand the reality that destinations along thousands of miles of the coast are ready to welcome visitors.
"The road to recovery must start now by gathering research and sharing accurate information, funding marketing and promotion efforts and minimizing panic," Dow continued. "U.S. Travel is developing concrete proposals to bring business and spending back to the region and will introduce them over the next few weeks. We are working with the government and BP to ensure recovery begins immediately and we do not wait until communities and jobs are devastated. The best way for people to help these communities is to come here and visit."
Attending the meeting were representatives from Lake Charles, Lafayette, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houma, and North Shore, Louisiana; Mississippi's West Coast; Mobile and Gulf Shores-Orange Beach, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida.
Visit www.southcoastusa.com or www.ustravel.org
In related news the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast
has launched its “Still Pristine” national television advertising campaign. The destination will air nine, 30-second television spots to address consumer misperceptions and reassure visitors that the Gulf oil spill is not affecting the destination’s coastline and islands.
The campaign will help to sustain visitation, protect the area’s tourism economy, and correct misconceptions regarding the spill’s impact on the destination, which remains completely untouched, a statement said.
“Tourism is the lifeblood of the area’s local economy. The destination welcomes nearly five million annual visitors who contribute $2.6 billion to the local economy, or $82 per second, and account for one in four jobs,” the destination said.
“Barring a major storm, the chances of oil impacting the destination are slim because the loop current in the Gulf follows the edge of the West Florida continental shelf, which runs parallel to the Florida coast and extends to about 150 miles off the destination’s shores.”