Oil spill has tourism business owners worried - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Oil spill has tourism business owners worried


By Doug Walker – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - BP officials announced Monday they will be awarding $70 million in grants to help the Gulf Coast states promote tourism in the aftermath of the oil spill.

The company said $15 million will go to Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Florida will get $25 million. The company said the money will be separate from the $25 million they have already promised to each state.

"We understand the governors' concerns for the impact on the tourism industry, and are making funds available so that they can support the industry's efforts to provide accurate information about the state of the beaches across the region," Tony Hayward, BP's Group Chief Executive, said Monday.

The amount is significantly less than the Harrison County Tourism Commission requested last week. They said it would take $7.5 million a month for television ads to combat the negative media impact on the Mississippi coast.

"It's not anywhere close to what we asked for in our original request of $7.5 million per month, but it is fantastic news to know that in less than a week BP has acted on our request," said Ken Montana, a member of the Harrison County Tourism Commission.

Details on how the grant money will be distributed were not in the announcement, but it will go through the governor's office in each state.  

"I want to make it clear that the time is of the essence. The Harrison County Tourism Commission has already started spending its own existing funds," said Montana.

Memorial Day is right around the corner, and Montana said a substantial number of hotel rooms and charter fishing trips have already been canceled. Along with that, numerous family reunions at local hotels have been canceled.  

"The money will be spent on marketing of tourism and seafood industries to be sure we have a successful summer season. If we had the money in our hands tomorrow morning, we'd be able to place the ads Wednesday," said Montana.

News of oil in the Gulf is already making an impression on potential visitors. Maryland resident Elaine Johnson is in Biloxi visiting her son who's stationed at Keesler Air Force Base.

Johnson said if the oil reaches Mississippi's shores, "I would come to visit, but not to really stay because it's dangerous with all that oil in the water. It's not good, it's not safe." 

Those who make their living off of tourism have been worried about business for weeks now. J.J. Pierotich is the owner of Souvenir City on Highway 90 in Biloxi.  

"I would say for sure because it's affecting people in Louisiana," Pierotich said.  "Louisiana is the main core of our tourists in the business I'm in. So those people down there, when they lose their livelihoods, they're not going to have any money to come to Biloxi and visit the shops and all." 

Pierotich and others are hoping for more customers like Robert Shields. The Meridian man said he loves the coast too much to abandon it, despite the threat.  

"I'll come down," Shields said. "It doesn't matter if there's an oil slick or what, I just enjoy being down here." 

Already, many tourism related businesses have filed suit against BP, hoping the oil company will make good on its pledge to compensate business owners for legitimate claims concerning the loss of  revenue.

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