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Jun 29, 2010 8:28 PM by Chris Welty

Execs Say Tourism in Gulf Needs Marketing Money

WASHINGTON (AP) - States bordering the gushing oil spill in the
Gulf of Mexico need as much as $500 million to boost tourism with
marketing campaigns aimed at cleaning up their image, tourism
executives said Tuesday.
The federal government should help Gulf states coordinate with
BP to receive money for promoting a region dependent on visitors,
the executives said during a breakfast meeting of industry
representatives.
Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan
Convention and Visitors Bureau, proposed the $500 million figure as
a reasonable sum for lifting tourism in the Gulf states. He did not
say whether the money should come from the $20 billion escrow fund
for damages that BP promised at the urging of President Barack
Obama.
The city of New Orleans has asked BP for $75 million to use for
marketing. Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have sought
$55 million from BP in a joint request from SouthCoast USA, a
nonprofit trade association that helped revive tourism after
Hurricane Katrina.
"Everything is perception and image in our business," Perry
said.
Tourism executives and Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., lamented news
reports showing oil-drenched birds and tar balls on beaches even
though large stretches of Gulf coastline are clear.
Canceled hotel stays and eliminated jobs are easier to account
for than the loss of potential tourists, Perry said. The latter
doesn't fit BP's claims process.
The U.S. Travel Association is planning to unveil a recovery
plan for Gulf states within a few weeks. One idea is a website
providing real-time information on all states in the region.
"The Obama administration has been a great ally to the industry
in this effort," said Geoff Freeman, a senior vice president of
the U.S. Travel Association. "From walking the beaches of the Gulf
coast and eating the food, he's sending the message that the area's
open for business."
Uncertainty pushes visitors away from the tourist-dependent
states as oil continues to spill from the rig that blew up April
20.
One hotel owner in St. Petersburg, Fla., told U.S. Travel
Association President Roger Dow that calls for bookings were down
27 percent. Up to three-quarters of hotel reservations have been
canceled, according to Visit Florida President Christopher
Thompson.
In Florida, 80 million visitors generated $60 billion in 2009,
Thompson said. June through August is the peak season for the
state's northwest region, which brings in 70 percent of its yearly
income during the summer, he said.
The need to fix the image of the states bordering the Gulf is
urgent or late-booking trends and doubt about vacationing in the
Gulf will persist for years, Perry said.
He offered an example of the long-term effects: An American
medical organization recently doubted planning a 2015 conference in
New Orleans, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. The meeting
of 15,000 means a "$30 million piece of business," he said.

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