For Gulf Tourism, Perception Is the Problem
Miami spent the bulk of its $1.25 million from BP reminding overseas visitors that its beaches were clean. The first six months of hotel occupancy increased 8.1 percent over last year, and the South Florida city's typically busy winter season also is expected to be strong.
"Could this year have been better had the oil spill not happened? Anecdotally the answer is yes," said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president for marketing for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Other communities had deceptively high occupancy rates because BP and federal officials were stationed nearby.
"I think we're one of the overlooked victims," said Leon Maisel with the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Mobile, Ala. "We have an elevated false economy because we were the staging area for the response team."
Spill response workers may have filled the hotels, but that left tourists with nowhere to stay. And that meant no one was spending money on attractions such as the USS Alabama Battleship and the Mobile Carnival Museum.
The state has launched a series of commercials featuring celebrities from Alabama, including actress Courteney Cox and singer Taylor Hicks, reminding families to return to beaches they've known for generations.
The plan after Labor Day, Maisel said, is to go after convention business, continue advertising attractions and set up new draws, such as a series of arts weekends.
"Right now our brand is 'go coastal' and that's almost like saying 'go toxic,'" he said. "Our brand has been damaged, we're going to have to rebuild and re-inform."
Look for CNBC's special coverage of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on-air and online this week. Senior Correspondent Scott Cohn reports from New Orleans Thursday and Friday, August 26 and 27.