The first big tourist holiday of the summer season – Memorial Day – brings encouraging news about the number of Americans traveling compared to 2009, but more vacationers should consider the still-oil-free beaches and resorts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Assumptions and misinformation about effects of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil rig explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico have caused significant cancellation of Mississippi reservations and a decline in the number of inquiries. The economic impact so far in Mississippi is not directly from the gushing oil itself, but from people who are canceling their plans or not making them in the first place.
A simple statement of facts can reassure vacationers: The Mississippi Gulf Coast so far has not been damaged by the spilled oil. That is not true to the west, where some oil is coming ashore on some parts of the Louisiana coast line. Where and when other shoreline damage occurs is a matter of natural forces and the effectiveness of human responses to them.
Mississippi coast tourism officials have said about half the people who made vacation plans along the coast before the April 20 spill have canceled them, and that’s discouraging.
Kenneth Montana, chairman of the Harrison County Tourism Commission, also said, “What’s happening is we are not getting the phone calls to book. It’s almost come to an 80 percent reduction in calls for future bookings.”
The tourism commission has spent $600,000 of its own money for an advertising campaign, and BP has committed $15 million to Mississippi for promotions.
“The perception is that everybody has oil on the beach and we are all closed up,” Montana said in a Sun Herald interview. “No beaches are closed, period.”
Cynical entrepreneurial action like an Irish betting house’s odds on which species will meet extinction first because of the spill doesn’t help matters.
“We kind of have a very simple philosophy at Paddy Power … people should be allowed to back up their opinion with some cash,” said Ken Robertson, a company spokesman. It’s reported the website is also taking bets on who will be the next CEO of BP.
Gov. Barbour has requested that the Small Business Administration temporarily suspend loan repayments for Mississippi coastal businesses impacted by the oil spill who have 2005 and 2008 SBA disaster and economic injury loans as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav – some of those loans made to tourism-connected entrepreneurs.
The potential exists, of course, for a worst-case environmental scenario, but don’t hasten economic disaster with uninformed decisions about vacation destinations.
NEMS Daily Journal