BP chips in with funds for Gulf Coast tourism promotion

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Gulf Coast states have mounted promotional campaigns to shore up their summer tourism numbers in the face of the possible threat to their coastlines from the TransOcean/BP oil slick.

And petroleum giant BP is paying for some of these marketing efforts.

Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, requested — and received — $25 million from BP to pay for a three-month tourism ad campaign to help combat negative publicity caused by the spill.

"I am grateful to Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, for answering our call for help," Crist said. "We will use every marketing resource available to spread the word that our beaches are clean, our fish are biting and Florida is open for business."

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing corporation, is updating its website with information about the oil slick.

"We know many visitors are concerned about the oil slick’s potential to affect their vacations," said Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer. "We want to do all we can to ensure their vacations are worry-free."

Website features include live webcam feeds from across the state; photos; Google-map-based Twitter feeds providing updates on beach conditions, weather and activities; and a collection of hotel deals.

In Panama City Beach, for example, a number of properties are offering a No Oil policy that features a "100% Clean Beach Guarantee." If authorities close the beaches while guests are there or prior to their arrival due to the oil slick, full refunds will be issued for any condo or hotel booked through the Royal American Hospitality management company.

Guests can reschedule for a later date with no loss of deposit.

Alabama tourism officials launched a $1.5 million marketing campaign, also with funds supplied by BP, to assure visitors that the state’s beaches are "clean and open for business," according to Lee Sentell, state tourism director.

Two TV spots promoting beaches and charter boat fishing were unveiled May 15 on 50 stations in the Southeast and Texas.

"State and local agencies are monitoring environmental conditions; specific water quality monitoring is being done at more than 20 public beaches," Sentell said.

Updates are posted daily at www.alabama.travel; a link to www.gulfshores.com points the way to hotel deals, such as the one at the Hilton Garden Inn between Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., that offers a No Oil Spill guarantee.

Hotels and resorts along the Mississippi Gulf coast are including a $75 gas card, along with the guarantee that their beaches are clean. The area’s official website, www.gulfcoast.org, also posts daily oil spill updates and maps tracking the slick’s location.

The state’s tourism leaders requested funds from BP to foot the bill for a $7.5 million media campaign. The request is under review, said John Pack, a BP spokesman.

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