Oil spill forecast to siphon off La. tourists


BATON ROUGE – Leisure tourism in the state is expected to take a $691 million hit through 2013 because of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April, but some of that loss will be offset by increased business travel to Louisiana by government officials and crews working on spill cleanup, according to an analysis conducted for the state’s tourism agency.

The report, finished last month, said business travel to the state will increase by about $395 million through 2013, softening the loss of a downturn in leisure tourism. The net impact of the financial loss to the state from the oil spill through 2013 will be about $295 million, according to the report by Tourism Economics, commissioned by the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Melody Alijani, director of research and development for the department’s Office of Tourism, said the state will do a follow-up study in March to measure how the nation and region perceive the state’s recovery from the oil spill. The December report was in the works from April to September, she said.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is expected to announce a new “brand campaign” for the state’s tourism promotion efforts at the annual statewide travel and tourism promotion summit in Baton Rouge on Wednesday.

Dardenne said the numbers in the report did not surprise him. “It means we have a challenge,” he said.

Most of the increase in business tourism dollars has been pumped into the economy, Dardenne said.

“It has softened the blow,” he said. “It provided cash in the affected areas (near the spill) while the crisis was ongoing. … The issue is now dealing with the perception that is still out there that oil is still washing ashore.”

The report said the spill’s “effects on visitor spending are expected to persist into (the first quarter of) 2013 before returning to the baseline forecast.” The baseline is what tourism officials projected for the 2010-13 period before the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

“There is no question Louisiana has been impacted,” Alijani said. “We have to convince people that the environment is clean and healthy. It takes a while for people to absorb that it is OK to eat shrimp” and other Louisiana seafood. Previous studies conducted by the department indicated that visitors were concerned about the quality of Louisiana seafood, and many out-of-state restaurants refused to serve it. Repeated testing has shown that seafood harvested from state waters is safe.

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

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