Tourism operators say oil threat hurting their pocketbooks - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Tourism operators say oil threat hurting their pocketbooks

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - So far there have been no official reports of oil in Mississippi waters, but some tourism operators said world-wide media coverage is enough to scare off visitors.

Tuesday, coast tourism leaders and BP officials will meet in Biloxi to discuss the oil leak's effect on tourism. Some business owners said their message for BP is that while the oil hasn't surfaced in Mississippi yet, the negative economic impact is already here.

Some passengers who boarded the ferry to Ship Island this weekend said they had worried that oil in the Gulf of Mexico might keep them from being able to able to make the trip.

"We did call," said Christian Silva. "We actually have a cousin from New Orleans that's coming in today. She also called yesterday, as well, to make sure that they were going out."

The owners of Ship Islands Excursions said they've been getting lots of inquiries by phone and through their website. They said the oil threat delivered a huge blow to what was expected to be a busy Mother's Day weekend.

"Yesterday was beautiful. Schools are letting out, and we were hoping for about 500 passengers yesterday," said Capt. Louis Skrmetta. "We had a total of 166. So we are definitely seeing a little bit of an impact."

The owner of South Coast Paddling Company in Ocean Springs said sunny weekends are usually spent giving kayaking tours of the coast's islands, rivers and bayous to large groups.  On Sunday, Melissa Johnson found herself on dry land.

"Despite the fact that our waters are still perfectly clean, at the moment, we have had a lot of cancellations," said Johnson. "People don't know what to expect, so they have been backing off. We've had a lot of cancellations. For instance, it's Mother's Day and we are not in the water."

Johnson said friends in the eco-tourism industry tell her they're in the same boat.

"It's very frustrating," said Johnson. "I think that if it goes on for weeks and months, people will continue to back away."

"Let's just hope and pray that they can get this thing plugged as soon as possible, because we don't want this to linger into the summer. It would just be a disaster for tourism," Skrmetta said.

Some business owners said they believe once the leak is capped and the cleanup is done, coast tourism will need help rebounding.

"It will be really important for the state to promote this area," said Johnson. "We will need to get it clean up quickly. BP needs to get it stopped quickly. We will need to re-promote this part of the state, and we'll all have to work together to make this a desirable destination."

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