Gulf Coast Tourists Return After BP Oil Spill, Some Areas Still Waiting To Recover
NEW ORLEANS, May 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Gulf Coast is a hot destination again two years after the massive BP Plc oil spill made the region a tourist dead zone, with the petroleum giant pumping more than $150 million into promotions to help the region recover.
In New Orleans, about 150 miles (240 km) northeast of where BP's well blew up on April 20, 2010, the period since more than 4 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico has seen a frenzy of tourism efforts.
"Tourism doesn't happen on its own, it takes marketing dollars, particularly if you're battling an image crisis like the oil spill," New Orleans convention and visitor bureau spokeswoman Kelly Schultz said.
A chunk of the $15 million BP initially sent to Louisiana in June 2010 funded emergency advertising to quell misperceptions that New Orleans was laden with oil, and Schultz says it worked. Hotel tax collections in the third quarter of 2010 jumped 33 percent from year-earlier figures
Since then, BP has sent more than $150 million to Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to aid tourism, and will shell out close to $30 million more by the end of 2013. Another $82 million was committed for seafood marketing and testing, BP spokesman Craig Savage said.
It is hard to tell how effective the dollars have been.
Data from international market analyst Smith Travel Research Inc. show that occupancy in hotels within 10 miles (16 km) of the Gulf Coast was 11 percent higher in the first quarter of this year as compared with the same quarter in 2010, immediately before the oil spill. Average daily hotel room rates rose 7 percent in that period.
But hotel occupancy and room rates nationwide rose by similar rates, the figures show. And along the Texas coast - where the oil spill had no direct impact and BP provided no marketing money - hotel occupancy rose 15 percent during the same period.
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