Louisiana beach closure from oil spill gives momentum to tourism fears

Today beaches on Grand Isle, Louisiana, were closed until further notice as oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill has washed ashore. Government officials closed the beaches at noon, and are working with the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department to also close the waters off the island. The closure feeds the fears of other Gulf Coast communities that the summer season will be lost to the oil spill.

Already, tourism officials say vacationers are canceling bookings and changing plans to visit coastal destinations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, despite the fact that most beaches are untouched by oil. Even Florida is keeping a watchful eye on the situation, as oil threatens to enter the loop current and South Florida visitor centers are beginning to field calls from concerned travelers.

Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour, urged visitors to keep their plans to visit his state, saying “The Coast is still open for business.” He also touted the popular casinos in Biloxi, which will still be viable vacation destinations even if the oil reaches their shores. He emphasized that tourism is the backbone of the Gulf Coast economy, and asked visitors not to jump to conclusions.

In Alabama, tourism officials at the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau expressed dismay at what appears to be a plan by South Carolina to steal visitors away to their beaches. Although no ads are planned that specifically mention the oil spill, they say plans by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce to spend $50,000 advertising its beaches in Alabama and Tennessee speaks for itself. If vacationers originally planning to visit Alabama’s Gulf Coast change their plans, it will be a significant blow to the tourism industry. Tourism along Alabama’s Gulf Coast region accounts for more than $3 billion in state revenue each year.

Tourism officials in all the Gulf Coast states have tapped BP to pay for an advertising campaign that will promote the beaches as a viable tourist destination, and try to allay oil spill fears.

New Orleans Times-Picayune
The State
The Clarion-Ledger
South Florida Business Journal