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Aug 13, 2010 9:18 PM by Alison Haynes

Obama looks to boost Gulf tourism with family trip

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is heeding his own
advice to American vacationers, taking his family to the Gulf Coast
this weekend to help the sagging tourism industry.
The president will arrive Saturday and spend just over 24 hours
in the Panama City, Fla., area, a quick jaunt in contrast to the
family's upcoming 10-day vacation to Martha's Vineyard, known as a
destination for the wealthy and privileged.
White House officials dismiss questions about the length of the
family's stay, saying that has no relation to the president's
commitment to the region's recovery.
"The president is deeply committed to the folks in the Gulf
region," said White House spokesman Bill Burton. He said Obama
wants to ensure the people of the Gulf Coast are "made whole again
after what was a terrible catastrophe."
Obama's been promoting the idea of Gulf travel as a way for
Americans to help the region's recovery. The White House says the
Obamas and daughter Sasha (her sister Malia's at summer camp) plan
to spend much of their time in the Gulf enjoying the area's
recreational activities.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama also will meet with
small business owners to discuss the recovery efforts. They'll be
joined by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former governor of
Mississippi chosen by Obama to develop a long-term Gulf Coast
restoration plan.
In Florida, particularly the Panhandle region where the Obamas
will spend the weekend, it's tourism - the state's top industry -
that's been hurt most by the spill.
Tourism officials say the region typically brings in 70 percent
of its yearly income between June and August. But despite the fact
that just 16 of the 180 beaches in the western part of the
Panhandle were effected by the spill, tourism officials say many
potential visitors have stayed away, deterred by images of
oil-slicked waters and tar-ball strewn beaches in other parts of
the region.
The head of the U.S. Travel Association has proposed that BP -
the company that held the lease to the offshore rig that exploded
April 20 and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf - set
aside $500 million for a marketing campaign to help draw tourists
to the Gulf states.
Obama has tried to do his part to boost tourism on four previous
trips to the region, urging Americans to include the Gulf Coast in
their summer travel plans.
"This is still a place that's open for business and welcoming
so vacationers and people can have a wonderful holiday here,"
Obama said during a June trip to Pensacola, Fla.
The first lady went a step further during a July visit to Panama
City Beach, Fla., practically ensuring that her own family would
vacation in the Gulf when she said, "One of the best ways that
fellow Americans can help is to come on down here and spend some
money."
The president's trip comes as the government's point man on the
spill, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Friday that the
blown-out well in the Gulf is not securely plugged to his
satisfaction and that the drilling of the relief well - long
regarded as the only way to ensure that the hole at the bottom of
the Gulf of Mexico never leaks oil again - must go forward.
Work on the relief well was suspended earlier this week because
of bad weather. Allen did not say when it would resume, but when
the order comes, it could take four days to get the operation up
and running again.

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