A year after the spill, tourists trickle back to the Gulf Coast

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - One year after the BP oil spill in the Gulf, tourism related businesses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are still struggling to recover their losses. Most business owners are cautiously optimistic that things will be better this year, but they know nothing is certain.

At Beauvoir last summer, the statue of Jefferson Davis stood a lonely vigil over the historic grounds, devoid of visitors. The oil spill chased away the tourists. But that may be changing, according to Richard Forte, Beauvoir's acting director.

"I believe that the tourists are starting to return," Forte said. "We've had a lot of unscheduled bus tours in March.  That's what we missed."

Still, Forte said, the BP gusher in the Gulf left hard feelings, not to mention court action.

"I felt like they should have gone to every tourist attraction on the coast and asked what they could do to help us, instead of the way we had to file a lawsuit. I didn't like doing that."

Coast motel and hotels did fairly well, thanks to an influx of BP oil spill clean-up workers.  Still, overall business was down. A BP funded advertising grant of $16 million could soon help.

"Money can buy a lot of advertising, a lot of good awareness and I think that the powers that be, the people who will be in charge of that, they'll concentrate on that," said Linda Hornsby, Director of the Hotel-Motel Association.

There's a very different oil related concern facing tourism related businesses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast heading into the summer of 2011: the price at the pump.

"It's a factor, no question about it," Hornsby said.  "Maybe we need to look at doing a gas card promotion again. It worked. Especially the first one."

At Souvenir City, the spill took a huge bite out of last year's profit statement.  Fingers are crossed for a better 2011.

"We're very optimistic and hoping things are going to be good," owner J.J. Pierotich said. "The general feeling of the people we're getting in is that they feel that things are much better. So we'll just have to see what happens."

A mile to the east along the beach highway, that same feeling can be found at Southern Comfort RV Park, where money is starting to change hands once again.  Cindy Davis manages the park.

"The town has done a wonderful job of keeping the beaches clean and providing a lot of services for everybody," Davis said. "So we're real happy and we got a good outlook to go, and a lot of reservations being made."

One of those reservations was made by Donna Tietje and her husband, visitors from New York. Her outlook concerning the coast is just what the area needs to recover.

"We love Mississippi, nice people and good food," Tietje said.  "We love the local shrimp and all the seafood they have here.  The weather, it's great down here."

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