Oil spill causes 50 percent+ cancellation rate in hotel bookings - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Oil spill causes 50 percent+ cancellation rate in hotel bookings


By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The oil spill and resulting national media coverage came at a bad time for the tourism industry. Just as the industry was starting to show significant improvement from a struggling economy, the oil crisis has virtually wiped out that gain.

Consider this staggering statistic: Hotel room cancellations are above 50 percent right now.

More than half the people who booked rooms on the coast since the oil accident three weeks ago are calling to cancel.

The promise of a busy summer season has been interrupted by perception about oil troubles.

"And the perception is that our beaches are oil ridden and that we're closed. It couldn't be further from the truth. We are, right now, unaffected except in terms of business," said Linda Hornsby, Director of the Hotel and Lodging Association.

And that business is hurting.  Hotel-motel operators report post-spill cancellations of 50 percent or more.

"What's worse is the people who are not calling. The lack of calls, it's really pounding us that the phones are not ringing. And that is immeasurable and unrecoupable. 'Cause we don't know who's not calling," said Hornsby.

"Just in case the oil did get here, we might as well come before it does," said Kim Schwartzman, who just arrived in Biloxi from the upper Midwest.

He and his wife Barb traveled more than a thousand miles from America's dairyland to visit the beach. They briefly considered canceling.

"We thought one time that maybe, should we go or we not go? And we thought, no, we're not going to miss this opportunity. We've always wanted to come here," said Barb Schwartzman.

"I watch a lot of news. And we saw it was just going around in circles right where it is right now, with the wind and currents. So, we pretty much knew what was going to happen and we were safe coming down and the beaches would still be here," her husband added.

While some national stories may have some folks believing our beach is already tainted with oil, the fact is the beach is the cleanest it's been in a long time, thanks to recent clean up efforts in preparation for any advancing oil.

We found a visitor from Sweden taking a dip.  He enjoyed both the warmer water and the well groomed beach.

"It's so white and clean," said the smiling international tourist.

Linda Hornsby said it will take a big advertising effort to battle that perception problem. She said "image ads" are needed to counter any negative notions that folks might have about the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a result of the oil spill coverage.

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