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Oil spill may take a toll on Gulf tourism
Holiday weekend a big one for beach towns
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Local vacationers may be thinking twice before heading towards the Gulf coast for the holidays.

Although the number of people booking trips has not dropped off for Amy Mayo, owner of Gateway Travel, she said the places they're visitng has changed.

"Instead of going to places in the Gulf, they're more going to the Atlantic side, because they're afraid of the (oil's) effect," she said. "Or they've opted to go out of the country, to the Caribbean."

She said many customers have asked about the oil spill and its range. "We've had a lot of people even ask about as far as the Yucatan." She added that the oil's effect has not spread that far.

She said many travelers from the area normally do head toward the Gulf this time of year and in the summer. "I'm sure they're seeing a hurt for that." 

Linda DeMark, owner of GalaxSea Cruises in Conyers, said she had not seen an effect in her business. "The oil spill has not affected the cruise industry," she said. "Have there been phone calls and inquiries? Yes, but everything is absolutely fine."

Louisiana tourism officials, who have already seen some oil come ashore, say their business definitely will suffer this Memorial Day.

Most of the coastal region in the state remains unaffected. But some areas have been closed to fishing, and one public beach has been closed.

In Mississippi, officials have mounted a public relations campaign to inform travelers that the beaches are still untouched and offshore gambling resorts remain open for business, said Richard Forester, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

After getting the message out, “We have seen a slowdown in the number of cancellations,” Forester said.

Officials still have no idea what to expect as far as visitors next weekend.

“It’s a real crap shoot right now — it’s very very hard to say,” Forester said. “A lot of it depends on what happens.”

In Alabama, where the Gulf Coast region generates about 35 percent of all tourism revenue for the state, reservations were on target with last Memorial Day until the oil spill, said Edith Parten, a spokeswoman for Alabama Tourism.

“Now it’s down slightly,” she said.

But the oil has not yet made an impact on the state’s beaches, including Gulf Shores Orange Beach, the most popular.
“Nothing has hit our shores,” she said. “Our beaches still have white sands.”

All Gulf states were given $15 million each for tourism money from BP, in addition to $25 million for spill mitigation. Some states have used it for advertising campaigns and live webcams focusing on their beaches.

“We want to get the word out,” Parten said. “You can still get out on the beach and have a good time.”

Florida tourism officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday, but AAA Auto Club South reports that the state has seen minimal disruption.

“We have not seen any significant cancellations related to the oil spill,” said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South. “We still expect a lot of people to come and enjoy the pristine beaches.”

If oil eventually came ashore in Florida and forced many of its beaches to close, it would cost the state $50 million to $100 million per month in lost tourism revenue, according to University of Florida tourism researcher Stephen Holland.

“If a substantial proportion of the beaches on the Gulf Coast were to be essentially closed to swimming because of oil sludge impact, I think it would have a noticeable effect on the state economy,” Holland said.


Stephen Gurr of The Gainesville Times contributed to this article.