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Date of Issue: May 19, 2010

Spill spurs summer season concerns

Beachgoers enjoy the sun and surf on Anna Maria Island May 14. Tourism officials are spreading the message that Florida’s beaches are open and clean, although government officials and support agencies are preparing for an oil spill in the Gulf to possibly reach the state. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Daily, worldwide, the report reaching potential Gulf coast vacationers is that an oil spill is growing at a rate of 210,000 gallons of crude per day.

There are other numbers in the news:

The spill has exceeded 3.5 million gallons.

The cost of the response for British Petroleum America — the company that was leasing the well that began leaking April 22 after an explosion sunk a Deepwater Horizon rig and killed 11 men — has exceeded $450 million.

Those numbers, along with images of the first injured birds and video of polluted coastlines in Louisiana and Alabama, have Florida tourism officials and the business owners that they work with concerned about the summer season and beyond.

To reach domestic and international tourism markets with a message that Florida’s beaches are open and untainted, Gov. Charlie Crist last week called on BP to contribute $35 million for an emergency advertising campaign.

About $25 million would be spent in early summer and another $10 million in early fall.

Crist, writing to BP America president Lamar McKay, requested the money “to counter the impact of widespread negative imagery generated by the spill.”

Also, locally, at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, staff continued to spread its message that Manatee County — specifically Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key — has not been impacted by the spill.

“The beaches are beautiful, and we are open for business,” said Jessica Grace of the CVB.

The CVB website, www.annamariaisland-longboatkey.com, now features a link to a Web camera at the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach. The camera early May 13 showed calm blue water, white sand and a palm tree.

If oil reaches the Florida coast, but stays away from Anna Maria Island, Grace said the local CVB must be prepared to intensify its message.

“We will get hyper-local,” she said.

Meanwhile, the CVB also is monitoring for any decline in tourist-related business in the area.

Such monitoring was taking place throughout the state, said Walter J. Klages of Research Data Services, a consultant for the Bradenton Area CVB.

Klages, during a Manatee County Tourist Development Council meeting May 10, said about 20,000 previous Gulf coast visitors were surveyed after the spill.

He said there is cause to be concerned about changes in travel behavior from major markets “from Chicago to New Jersey to Philadelphia,” but, as of early last week, the surveys were not finding widespread cancellations.

“There are significant changes in the intent to travel and the intent to visit,” Klages said. “But are they actually canceling? No.… We are not, at this juncture, observing any significant changes in travel for Pinellas, for Manatee, for Sarasota, for Collier. I don’t really see massive cancellations at this time.”

However, Island-based accommodation owners and agents have reported a few canceled and changed reservations.

Though the numbers of cancellations as of last week were few, they can have a significant impact.

Spinnakers Cottages in Holmes Beach lost just one week-long booking in July, according to proprietor Jo Ann Meilner. But the resort has just three units.

Additionally, said Meilner, “normally at this time of year we already are solid in July, but right now we have none. That is a noticeable difference.”

Spinnaker has not lost bookings for June, but Meilner also reported calls from people curious about conditions and worried about refunds.

Other accommodation owners and agents also have reported calls.

“We’ve had no cancellations, but we’ve had concerns,” said Megan Fischbach of Sato Real Estate.

Fischbach said curious callers are directed to tourism websites, including Visit Florida’s page and the CVB page, for current information.

Island resort owner David Teitelbaum said callers to his resorts also are told about the CVB site featuring the beach Web camera.

Teitelbaum said two parties postponed vacations at his resorts until later in the summer, and, he said, Island businesspeople are sharing fears for the summer.

“It’s scary,” said Teitelbaum.

Claims and complaints

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau encourages local businesses to keep track of any loss of revenue, as well as customer concerns, due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The CVB is collecting such information at info@annamariaisland-longboatkey.com.

Records also will be needed for any business to make claims for financial reimbursement from British Petroleum America.

“It is important that when these cancellations occur, the canceling party is questioned whether the cause is because of the oil spill,” the CVB stated in a message to tourism businesses. “If the answer is yes, keep a record of the person’s name and contact information and also the revenues lost.”

The hotline number for BP claims is 800-440-0858.

For more information, go to www.myfloridacfo.com or call 850-413-3089.