Tourism hardest hit in the Gulf in BP oil spill aftermath
Acknowledgement to Ironshore Environmental
August 17th, 2010 12:22 pm
By Dominique Doms, International Trade Examiner
The tourism industry in the Gulf of Mexico is normally at its peak around this time of the year, but tourists are few and far between this time around. A stroll around the beaches of the Florida panhandle and the Alabama shore show some sunbathers and visitors but the signs of a suffering Gulf economy are plenty.
Across the Gulf States, the vacancy rates in hotels, inns or condominiums is around 50% and a simple stroll on the beaches or a visit to a local restaurant show why: the number of visitors is a far cry from what local residents and business owners call “a normal season”.
One business owner in Alabama complained that his foreign visitors cancelled their trips after the April 22 collapse of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the start of the oil spill and opted to reschedule their two or three week vacation somewhere else and away from the Gulf.
Thousands of foreigners flock to the pristine beaches of the Gulf of Mexico on an annual basis and their absence can be clearly felt.
Restaurants have more empty seats than ever before and the second problem to deal with is the questions the few patrons ask when they make their choice from what the menu has to offer: “is this seafood local or imported?”
Local residents shy away from their own beaches and instead prefer to spend their free time in their own condominium pools, afraid of what the once clear waters may contain and doubting whether it is safe to swim in them.
Visitors don’t really have a choice and want to make the best of their regrettable vacation reservations. They sometimes have to walk through dirty sand and their children wade in the surf to cool off.
Overall, the vacation season is not a memorable experience for tourists and local business owners alike and has hit the economy the hardest at a time when most businesses make a large portion of their annual revenue.
The fallout of this experience, primarily for the overseas visitors who spend more cash than the average tourist, is that they will not come back next year. One family from Germany stated in an interview: “We came with the family because all was paid upfront and we hoped it would be OK. We are disappointed. We don’t trust the food, the children complain about itching from playing in the water, some days the beach is dirty; you just never know”
Asked if they would return next year when the oil spill threat diminishes, Mr. Stoltz responded: “I don’t think so. It is bad for the people here, but next time we go maybe to the East Coast.”
For the Gulf States, this season is a major economic blow in an already fragile environment and one that leaves behind less pleasant memories for the few foreign visitors who contribute to the local economy, not because of their numbers, but because of the dollars they spend.