Hancock County tourism down but still hopeful

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - By Al Showers – bio | email

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - BP says it has paid $256 million for lost income resulting from the Gulf oil spill. The Oil company said it will start sending at least $60 million more in advance money to cover August by the end of the week.

The company said fishermen have received the bulk of the money at $39 million, shrimpers $23 million and oyster harvesters $8 million. Charter boat owners have received $6 million.

Another $117 million have gone to workers and businesses in a variety of fields, including deck hands and seafood processing workers. BP said it has received 133,000 claims.

Some of that money went to promote tourism in the state which suffered greatly because of the nationwide perception that our beaches were drenched in oil.

Overcoming that perception has been particularly tough on smaller coastal communities like Bay St. Louis and Waveland.

Beaches and shops, restaurants and casinos are just some attractions that usually bring thousands of tourists to Hancock County.

Executive director of the Hancock County Tourism Bureau, Beth Carriere said this summer, the numbers are down.

Carriere said, "Relative to Katrina's influence coupled with the economy and then you top that off with BP, we didn't have much room to lose, let's put it that way."

Carriere said ironically BP workers are helping fill the void and keeping some businesses afloat.

"The sub-contractors, contractors and BP personal filled up our lodging establishments as they have along the entire Gulf Coast," Carriere said.

Still, the beaches haven't been as full as they usually are, and Carriere said oil kept people away.

"They didn't want to take the chance or the risk of their vacation being influenced by the oil, so lots of people opted to go else where," Carriere said.

Tourism leaders say it's difficult to overcome the perception that oil is everywhere especially when it's not.

"We've got to find ways to deal with it. The reality is no matter what's happening around us, we have to be proactive as businesses, as citizens, as community leaders," Bay-Waveland Main Street Director Sherri Bevis said. "We have to find ways to bring people into our community."

Even with oil cleanup, Katrina recovery and the economy, Carriere said she's optimistic because Hancock County has a lot to offer. Her biggest challenge is now making sure the rest of the world knows that.

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