Gulf Coast tourism needs more promotional money from BP, says U.S. Commerce Secretary


NEW ORLEANS — The Gulf Coast tourism business needs more advertising money from BP PLC to bring back visitors staying away because of the oil spill, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Monday.

Tourism recovery will “take a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of money,” and BP should be pressed to provide the money, Locke told the U.S. Tourism and Travel Advisory Board in New Orleans.

The oil company has given $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for tourism promotion, but that money has run out.

Although the oil spill has directly hit only a small portion of the coastal tourist business, some Florida resorts nowhere near petroleum are seeing 60 to 70 percent of their reservations canceled, said Steven Perry, head of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and a member of the national tourism board.

Because it’s seasonal business, the lost revenue cannot be made up, Perry said.

In a July 22 report, Oxford Economics, a worldwide economic analysis and forecasting group, said that the spill’s effects on Gulf Coast travel likely will last up to three years and cost the region $22.7 billion.

The U.S. Travel Association has proposed a BP-funded $500 million marketing program — one that Oxford Economics said would reduce the toll by $7.5 billion.

The trade group also wanted an online site where travelers can learn which areas are safe and open for travel; tax deductions for travelers in the area; and low interest loans and tax incentives to encourage tourism businesses to remain open.

After the meeting, Locke said he would count on state and local tourism agencies to come up with a figure for a campaign much longer than the first one.

“It’s obviously not a one-shot deal and one that needs to be reinforced for at least a couple of years,” Locke said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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