By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — The Gulf of Mexico oil spill will cost Mississippi’s coastal counties nearly $120 million in lost tourism and service industry revenues this summer season, even though the state’s beaches have not been hit by crude, say researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi.
David Butler and Edward Sayre project a 5 percent revenue loss from May through August, compared to the same period last year.
Their study, released Monday, notes that tourism has taken a large hit with non-casino hotels down 50 percent. These figures include the tourism and service sectors related to hotels, restaurants and food and beverage outlets. It does not include the losses in the seafood sectors such as shrimping.
“No oil has washed up on Mississippi beaches, yet the economic impact is very significant to the people of the Gulf Coast,” said Butler. “It’s significant because of the negative images portrayed by the national news coverage.”
The report said the hardest-hit segment of the coastal economy will be charter boats. Revenue is down 70 percent on average, with some down more than 90 percent. Butler and Sayre said that without additional sources of revenue there is a chance that industry will shrink significantly.
The decline in recreational and commercial fishing has a ripple effect throughout the coastal community with a 65 percent to 70 percent decline in the sale of boats and boat trailers, tackle, ice and other related supplies.
“The quandary in which tourism related businesses find themselves is that they can’t look forward to 2011 and say things will get better. Until the oil leak is stopped, no one can foresee a beginning date for when a turnaround might begin,” said Butler.
According to the research, sales at seafood restaurants are down at least 30 percent from this time last year. However, at the same time, seafood prices are up an average of 30 percent.
Researchers said that makes it difficult for seafood restaurants to remain profitable, maintain their staffs, and pay their bills. The research shows revenues at non-seafood restaurants are down 15 percent over the same period in 2009 due to the drop in tourism.