A spat has broken out between BP and Florida’s tourism industry after the oil giant’s refusal to inject a further $50 million to encourage travellers to visit the Sunshine State.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist originally asked for and received $25 million from BP to promote Florida’s beaches. However that fund has now run dry, and was focussed on promoting the panhandle.
Crist and state tourism leaders believe part of “making it right” is helping Florida’s tourism industry, which has suffered by millions of dollars since the start of the oil disaster. But, despite BP’s commitment, the oil company is denying Crist’s request for $50,000,000 to encourage travellers to visit the Sunshine State.
“They rejected that request yesterday,” says Crist. “So, we are responding to their letter – trying to force them to do the right thing.”
BP has already handed over $25m for Florida tourism but Crist said: “That went pretty quickly. Those dollars don’t go that far.”
“The notion that they’re spending who knows how much on trying to put a good face on BP as a corporation… what’s the point? How does that help us here?” he asked.
A spokesman for BP says the company has already given state money for tourism promotion, and does not see a need to give more at this time.
At the meeting, Florida tourism and government officials said the cancellations and property declines would continue for some time, even if BP succeeds in capturing most of the oil with a new cap.
They say coverage of the oil spill is scaring off tourists, even though most of the state’s beaches remain pristine.
The tourism industry in Florida has been hurt by travel cancellations that people have made since the disaster. Officials report of a decline hotel taxes and that real-estate deals have been cancelled due to the oil spill.
The ads have tried to counteract the images coming from the Gulf coast – images of oil spewing into the ocean and animals caught in deadly slicks.
Florida’s fiscal year started on July 1st so Visit Florida has about $20 million in new cash – but that money was supposed to pay for an entire year’s worth of marketing.
According to Kathy Torian, a spokeswoman for Visit Florida, the current crisis has forced the agency to spend about $10 million a month on ads to let people know that 90 percent of the state’s beaches are still clean.
Torian says that without the extra cash, the tourism industry will suffer.
“We can’t afford not to continue to get that message out,” she said. “But we’ll just have to do it on a much smaller scale if we have to use only our own dollars.”