Florida Tourism Industry Seeks to Calm Oil Spill Fears
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's beaches are clean. Its Gulf waters remain inviting and clear. The weather the last two weeks has been outstanding.
And reservations at Panhandle hotels and resorts have fallen off a cliff.
News of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has scared visitors away. Forecasts of imminent landfall have not yet come true.
On Wednesday, board members of Visit Florida, the quasi-governmental marketing arm for tourism, pleaded with Gov. Charlie Crist for money to launch a marketing campaign to let travelers know the spill has not yet affected the area.
Carol Dover, a board member and president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said this time before Memorial Day usually has Panhandle hotel phones ringing constantly.
"Literally yesterday there were no calls. Reservations have dropped from the 90th percentile now down into the teens," Dover said.
Crist had a TV-buy suggestion.
"If you can cut a spot and get it on the tube, my humble recommendation would be to put it on cable TV around the country," Crist said.
Chris Thompson, Visit Florida's president, said the group had been in contact with BP and is asking for a $24.5 million national multimedia marketing campaign to offset damages caused by just news of the spill. He asked Crist to lead the charge.
"You don't have to twist my arm. I'm twisting theirs," Crist said.
Crist said Tuesday he expects to call a special session of the Legislature to put an oil-drilling ban constitutional amendment before voters in November. Wednesday morning, the governor said funding for marketing could also be addressed.
Dover said a special session later this month would be too late.
"This is their peak season. They live and die by the next 90 days," Dover said. "If we don't do something like immediately like by the end of this week or the first of next week they're just going to die."