Tracking the spill: Officials urge tourists to visit the Gulf Coast

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The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau wasted no time in assuring visitors that tar balls found earlier this week in Lake Pontchartrain posed no threat to tourism in the Big Easy.



"While the lake borders the northern boundary of New Orleans, it is used primarily by locals for recreational purposes. It is not a tourist attraction or a drinking water source," noted a posting on the CVB's Web site at www.neworleanscvb.com.

Tourism officials along the Gulf Coast continue to urge visitors to travel to the region, emphasizing attractions such as golf, museums, parasailing and shopping.

Year-over-year occupancy is up in some areas along the Gulf, according to Smith Travel Research.

Duane Vinson, STR's vice president of content management, said, "We are seeing demand improve, so occupancy is higher. Cleanup crews and media also are occupying some of the rooms, which pushes occupancy."

Meanwhile, calm seas on Thursday were expected to allow cleanup crews to resume skimming and boom operations.

However, that condition might be short-lived because the season's second tropical depression formed in the western Gulf of Mexico early Thursday. Forecasters say it could become Tropical Storm Bonnie by the afternoon.

The system, expected to make landfall Thursday evening, could dump between 4 and 10 inches of rain on southern Texas.

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