While the Gulf Coast hopes for news that the new BP cap will finally contain the spill 85 days into the disaster, tourism officials in Panama City Beach, Fla., hope that Michelle Obama’s visit on Monday bolstered their message that the beaches are clean and the water is safe.
The First Lady flew into the new Northwest Florida Beaches Airport in Panama City, met with elected officials and business leaders at the Boardwalk Beach Resort, strolled along the sand, waded into the surf and ate Chocolate Hurricane ice cream at the Pink Pelican ice cream parlor.
She was on message, urging tourists to head to Gulf Coast beachside towns like Panama City Beach.
"These residents and visitors are the lifeblood of the Gulf Coast, and that’s why it is so important to spread the word that despite what everyone is seeing on TV and reading in the newspapers that most of the coast is still open for business," Obama said.
Panama City Beach has had no sightings of tar balls or sheen in several weeks, according to its website, but business has suffered due to misperceptions that oil has fouled all of the beaches in the area, tourism officials said.
Meanwhile, Alabama-based golf wholesaler Fairways Golf Vacations launched a marketing campaign with the slogan "Golf on the Gulf Coast is good, good and great: Good for the golfer’s handicap, good for the ‘birdies’ and great for the Gulf Coast economy."
To encourage golf couples and group leaders to travel to the region, Fairways said that a minimum of 10% of profits from golf vacations booked by Aug. 31 will be donated to the National Audubon Society’s Action Fund.