Florida’s summer “saved” by BP donations

Florida tourism officials have credited a $32 million fund donated by BP to encourage holidaymakers to visit despite the Gulf of Mexico oil spill for “saving the summer”.

New figures show that visitor numbers to Florida rose during the first months of the crisis, which tourism officials credit to an advertising funded by a $32 million donation from BP.

They say it allowed them to put out the message that most of Florida’s beaches remained untouched by the spill.

The funds were used for high-profile campaigns on television, radio and in newspapers both domestically and across Europe.

“It was the best money that BP spent other than that on capping the spill,” Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, told The Telegraph.

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“I believe it saved the summer. Our occupancy rates were up 6 percent. There’s no question that money talks when you have the opportunity to put yourself in front of potential visitors.”

“In the first three months of the year, before the spill, visitors from the UK were up 4 per cent from last year and our research suggests that has continued,” said Kathy Torian, Visit Florida’s communications director. In 2009, 1.24 million Britons holidayed in Florida.

Visit Florida said almost 21 million people arrived in the quarter from April to June, a 3.4 percent increase on 2009. The number of overseas visitors rose 11.9 percent to 1.9 million year-on-year.

However areas closest to the spill suffered badly. In Pensacola Beach, hoteliers report business sliding 30 percent during the peak months of July and August.

Despite the upbeat figures, and the capping of the leaking oil well, executives insist that Florida must continue to campaign to attract visitors, especially from Britain.