Tourism is a major part of the economy along the Gulf coast. Take 2008, for example, a year when travelers to congressional districts along the Gulf coast spent over $34 billion, which sustained 400,000 jobs, according to a recent report by Oxford Economics. Consider also, the amount of jobs the tourism industry creates for the Gulf coast. Leisure and hospitality employment is almost 15 percent of total private employment for the counties along the Gulf shore, compared with 12 percent for the entire country. In Mississippi, 22 percent of private employment on the coast is in the leisure and hospitality sector.
The 18 congressional districts along the Gulf coast represent a significant share of each state’s total tourism economy. In Louisiana, almost 40 percent of its tourism employment is on the Gulf coast. The real estate sector and rental income are tied to the tourism industry. Over 459,000 homes along the Gulf are for recreational or seasonal use, representing seven percent of all homes.
The potential impact of the oil spill could cost the Gulf region $22.7 billion over a period of three years, according to the report commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association. BP gave $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama for tourism promotion, but the money is already spent. The report states that if a $500 emergency marketing plan is established the potential impacts of the oil spill could be cut one-third ($7.5 billion) to encourage people to travel to the Gulf region.
Beyond establishing a marketing plan, the U.S. Travel Association calls on the federal government to:
- Develop an online portal where people can find out about which Gulf Coast areas are safe and open for travel and business
- Provide tax deductions in a disaster-affected area to give travelers added incentive to travel to and do business in that region
- Intervene to provide increased access to capital, low interest loans and tax incentives that allow businesses to remain open and keep employees
“Travel is a perception business and the impact of disasters like the BP oil spill on the industry is actually predictable,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
“We know from this research that the oil spill will have long-term effects on businesses and jobs in the Gulf Coast region unless we counteract the usual course of events with an unprecedented response,” said Dow.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke recently said that it will take “a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of money” for Gulf coast tourism to recover. “It’s obviously not a one-shot deal and one that needs to be reinforced for at least a couple of years,” Locke added.