Holidaymakers have begun to return to the states worst affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, just months after the disaster.
While initial fears suggested the accident – which saw 4.9 million barrels of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico – may have caused permanent damage to the local tourism sector, a recovery is now underway.
However, severe short-term losses have also been recorded.
Speaking at World Travel Market earlier Lee Sentell, director of Alabama Tourism, said one county within the state, Baldwin, which has 42 miles of beaches, saw revenue drop 33 per cent year-on-year for the five months between May and September.
“We were on track to be 15 per cent up after the hurricanes and economic situation; this was going to be ‘the’ year.”
Sentell calculated the loss to be in the region of half a billion dollars and said that Baldwin County accounts for 25 per cent of all tourism revenue in the state.
He also touched on the US$15 million given to Alabama to fund awareness projects and draw tourism back to the region.
Florida has also felt the economic impact according to Visit Florida chief marketing officer Will Seccombe, who added that the only way to recoup losses was to be as open and honest as possible about the situation.
“The media created tremendous misconceptions and we need to embrace the same technology used to portray the images and really be transparent to be seen as the trusted source for travel information.”
Both Sentell and Seccombe were upbeat about tourism to the region going forward and Florida has already seen an increase in visitors in the summer.
“Florida is a very powerful destination worldwide and the sustainability question becomes more important going forward but we have to be open and honest and use the technology to address these issues as they come up.
“At the end of the day we will be fine,” said Seccombe.
Sentell predicted Alabama would have a good year in 2011 and that reservations are already up.
Questioned on the long-term environmental impact of the disaster and whether it could happen again, Lance Le Fleur, director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said there were some “unknowns”.
“All scientific evidence to date shows we have dodged a bullet,” he explained.
“We don’t know the amount of seafood that will be able to be harvested in future.
“Could it happen again? Anything can happen. We have been drilling in the Gulf or 50 years and there is some combination that can make it happen again but what is the probability of that?”