Baldwin County’s coastal communities have been called the epicenter of the economic impact of the gulf oil spill. New numbers on just how much damage was done to the tourism industry backs that up.
“Sum up the summer of 2010? Living through a nightmare.”
Baldwin County’s $2.3 billion tourism industry took an estimated half-billion-dollar hit last summer. “In lodging alone, equates to about $64 million, now that’s just the beginning,” says President of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Herb Malone.
He tracked the numbers all summer. “The people that aren’t here in the rooms are not eating in the restaurants. They are not shopping in the shops. They’re not buying souvenirs.”
Overall, numbers were down more than 41 percent for the summer. “All the indicators were we were going to be up 10 to 15 percent this year, and we lost 41 percent,” says Malone.
Last summer tourism officials were preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Now they are just looking forward to next season.
“There’s light at the end of that tunnel, and yes we are getting lots of calls.”
Brett Robinson marketing director Marie Curren says the biggest challenge is the perception the beaches are still covered in oil. “We’re doing surveys from guests that didn’t come, do you think you will be coming down? We’re just trying to get a feel. If the perception is good or is the perception still the pelican with the oil on it?”
The other bird tourism officials are counting on, snowbirds. “They are still coming,” says Curren, “which is great news. They will help spread the word from where they come from that the beaches are good.”
Alabama’s beaches are no longer its best kept secret, the national spotlight put an end to that. The only question now is will tourists return.