More than six months after the BP oil spill, 13 percent of would-be visitors say the incident has caused them to cancel or postpone upcoming plans to visit, according to a study released in October by the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
“But what happens after those workers go home?” asks Darienne Mobley, co-executive director of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association.
She says that the 800-some members of her tourism-industry group are gazing with apprehension three months into the future, when the recovery work ends, temporary visitors check out, and the media turns off its cameras.
Though they lack a crystal ball, the group’s members — hotels, restaurants, casinos, tourist attractions — fear a more significant drop in tourism after the new year.
As the voice of the private-sector hospitality industry, her organization has stepped up to advise members on how to file a BP claim and what constitutes a claim, bringing in BP experts to speak to members.
“For example,” she says, “I had a B&B from New Orleans call me this week saying, ‘I’m full now, but what about in three months when the workers leave? Am I still eligible to make a claim?’
“Restaurants are doing fairly well, and a lot of hotels are still full,” she adds. “Everyone above I-10 is fine. It’s the southern part of the state and the outdoor, nature-based tourism opportunities that have been most affected. The perception that you can’t go fishing is obviously hurting the tourism industry.”
Louisiana is still reeling from perception problems caused by the BP oil spill. The recent study commissioned by the tourism office confirms that misperceptions about Louisiana seafood, in particular, remain.
Nearly half the respondents to the study believed — falsely — that commercial fishing is allowed where oil is present. And one-third didn’t believe or weren’t sure whether regulations are in place to ensure bad seafood is not sold — despite the fact that Gulf seafood is more rigorously tested today than ever before.
Post-spill, says Mobley, she’s seen the tourism industry pull together, just as it did in the days following Hurricane Katrina.
“Tourism as a whole will emerge stronger,” she says. “There’s more awareness about being involved and having more of a political voice, as opposed to just running your own little world.”
She points to this example: Ten Louisiana parishes joined forces after the oil spill to form Visit Louisiana Coast (http://visitlouisianacoast.com), a regional marketing coalition. “They’ll spend $5 million between now and June to promote tourism to the region. That’s a great beginning. Parishes that once viewed one another as competition now see that marketing as a region will benefit us all.
“It shows you that, in a tragic situation, people tend to pull together instead of pulling apart.”