Tourism organizations brace as gulf oil spill nears coastlines

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Tourism groups along the Gulf Coast and as far south as the Florida Keys are preparing for the possibility that the massive TransOcean/BP oil slick could move close enough to have a damaging effect on their coastlines.

City and state tourism offices and convention bureaus have taken a proactive stance by posting oil-slick status reports on their websites and touting a universal message: Don’t cancel. Don’t change your travel plans.

Louisiana’s Office of Tourism pointed out on its home page that the affected coastal areas "are geographically distant from inhabited areas. New Orleans is 100 miles inland and foresees no disruption in guest service or any negative impacts on visitors."

The Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Council added a component to www.fla-keys.com that features maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard plotting approximate positions of the slick, which is variously compared in size with Delaware or Jamaica.

Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism organization, posted a link on its home page directing visitors to the latest updates on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, provided by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The page also contains an interactive map that links to the latest posting by city visitor bureaus, said Kathy Torian, Visit Florida’s communications manager.

"All beaches, all resorts, all attractions and state parks are open for business," she said.

Some of the smaller hotels and dive shops in the Florida Keys reported a falloff in bookings but no cancellations for current reservations, said Andy Newman, communications manager for the Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Council.

"There is so much uncertainty," he said. "No one knows where this slick will go or how it will disperse."

In Mississippi, Richard Forester, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that all beach activities were open for business, including charter fishing.

Linda Hornsby, executive director of the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association, reported no cancellations, although the organization had fielded calls from visitors seeking reassurance about their upcoming beach vacations. The 11 coastal casinos serving the Gulfport-Biloxi area are doing a "brisk business," she said.

SouthCoast USA, a multistate consortium of destinations along the Interstate 10 corridor and the Gulf of Mexico, from New Orleans to Pensacola, Fla., urged visitors to continue with their plans.

"We are trying to prevent cancellations and to reassure visitors to come," said Cristyne Nicholas, a spokeswoman for SouthCoast. "Their visits will help ensure that the local tourism economy, which is a cornerstone to our growth, remains vibrant."

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