Tourism/travel news, updates & discussions about Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas & Mexico. Please add your own thoughts, questions & observations!

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  • From Miami Herald, 6/5/11:

    A Year After Oil Spill Hits Florida, Tourism Is Up but Questions Remain

    ..."Though much of the goop has been skimmed from the water and plucked from the sand, the region still pays the price of one of the nation’s most devastating oil spills. Workers and mechanical sifting machines continue to remove unsightly tarball specs from the Panhandle’s pristine beaches, many business owners are still fighting to recoup lost profits from BP and the future impact on the rest of the economy and environment may take years to truly learn.

    For now, there’s some positive news: Visitors are returning to the Panhandle beaches in record numbers and spending at hotels and storefronts that were hurting for cash last summer..."

  • GULF TOURISM AS GAUGED BY FLYING FISH
    by Dionne Searcy
    Wall Street Journal,  25 April 2011

    "The next test of the Gulf Coast tourist economy's recovery from last year's massive oil spill will come this Friday when fish fly at a state-straddling roadhouse.

    The Interstate Mullet Toss on the last weekend of April typically lures huge crowds to the Flora-Bama bar in Pensacola, Fla., where patrons try to throw a dead mullet fish as far as they can, from Florida across the sandy state border into Alabama.


    Last year, thousands took part in the annual ritual—and raging party—as millions of barrels of oil were leaking from the BP PLC's Macondo well miles away in Gulf waters. The mullet tossers paid it no mind, though, lining up for their chance to step inside a 10-foot circle to throw one of the silvery bottom-feeders like a discus.


    But a few weeks later gooey tar balls started washing ashore, chasing away tourists and leading to a terrible summer season all along the Gulf Coast. Crowds were significantly smaller than usual throughout the year at big events like Fourth of July fireworks, the annual shrimp festival and the Thunder on the Gulf powerboat races.


    This year, locals are hoping beachgoers will clamor to the 27th annual Mullet Toss and forget about the spill that started a year ago with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.


    ...Signs of the spill linger. Sixty pounds of tar balls still wash ashore daily along the 33-mile stretch of beach that runs near the Interstate 65 corridor near Orange Beach, Ala., and surrounding areas, said Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach.

    But, said Mr. Kennon, who is leading a public-relations effort to revitalize the local economy: "If you didn't know they were there you wouldn't even see them.…Our beaches are cleaner than they've ever been.


    Reservations for vacation rentals are down in Orange Beach, Pensacola, Mississippi beach towns and other Gulf communities. No one knows if the typical droves of summer tourists will return. But there are signs of progress, according to economic analysts."


  • interesting article on hotelnewsnow.com:

    Forecast Murky for Hoteliers in the Gulf

    REPORT FROM THE U.S.—One year after the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig that led to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, beach communities in Louisiana, Alabama and a small portion of Florida still are fighting any lingering negative perception in an attempt to lure travelers back to their vacation spots.

    Keep reading

  • As the first anniversary of the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster is upon us, and summer beach season draws nearer, a number of media outlets have been re-examining the situation and its prospects for the 2011 season. Here's a sampling from a piece in today's USA Today:

    Tourism Returning a Year After the Gulf Oil Spill
    by Charisse Jones

    "When tourists call Eilene Beard's scuba diving business in Pensacola, Fla., nowadays, she says she's too often asked whether there's still oil in the Gulf of Mexico's waters.

    "I explain to them, 'It's not here and there's no evidence — the water is great,'" says Beard, whose livelihood has been threatened by last year's BP oil spill. "And then they'll instantly turn around and say, 'Well, are you sure?' There's doubt in their minds."

    A year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, tourism is returning to the Gulf Coast. Yet some businesses that rely on tourists, such as Beard's, continue to struggle. And local tourism officials worry that memories of the spill, combined with rising gasoline prices and a still-shaky national economy, could forestall a return to boom times.

    "We are seeing people who are saying, 'We miss you. We'll be coming back this year,'" says Marion Laney, a tourism official and Realtor on Alabama's Dauphin Island, a waterfront destination near the mouth of Mobile Bay.
    But there aren't enough of them. The number of rental reservations is still down at least 25% compared with last year, Laney says. "I think what we're up against here is a lingering question and doubt about what the government entities are saying about the oil, where it is and the impact," he says.
    The ecological disaster, which began with an explosion a year ago today, took a heavy toll. It crippled the Gulf Coast's economic pillars of oil, fishing — and the multibillion-dollar tourism industry."
  • From The Wall Street Journal, 2/24:

     

    In a bid to recover from a BP-oil-spill-devastated 2010, Panama City Beach and other Gulf shore vacation destinations reverse any recent reluctance to promote college spring break:

     

    "Tourism officials from Panama City Beach, Fla., have been visiting college campuses all over the snow-struck Midwest in recent weeks to deliver a message: The spring break party is back on.

    It is a shift from just 18 months ago, when the town decided to pull back from promoting college spring break, feeling that Panama City Beach's reputation as the hotspot for drunken post-adolescent revelry was keeping other visitors away.

    But that was before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last April, when tar balls washed up along the town's beaches and tourism plummeted.

    "When the kids come down here and have a great time and see our beaches are clean, they'll be our ambassadors and tell the rest of the world," says Dan Rowe, president and chief executive of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    All over the Gulf Coast, vacation communities hurt by the oil spill see spring break as critical to reviving their economies and kickstarting tourism before the important summer season...

    ...Spring break is the third biggest tourism month for Panama City Beach, after June and July. The city typically brings in $101 million during March. In recent years, about 300,000 students have descended on its beaches, clubs and bars during spring break.

    Pensacola—known as a college spring break destination—isn't marketing directly to students. But the bureau is running new online banner ads in cities including Chicago and Washington, D.C. The slogan: 'Chilly Today? Warm Tomorrow.'"

     

  •  From Lafourche, LA Daily Comet, Dec. 10:

     

    On Grand Isle, It's Always Time to Hit the Beach

    by Nate Monroe

    "Crews are working to get Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island ready for what many hope will be a busy summer tourist season, but you don’t need to wait so long to hit the beach.


    Grand Isle is included on Yahoo Travel’s latest list of the 10 best winter beaches in the country, picked for its isolation, mild temperatures and sunny weather.

    'In the winter, the population of this barrier island off Louisiana’s Gulf Coast shrinks back down to its 1,600 permanent residents from its summer high of 14,000,' the list reads. 'But temperatures remain warm enough to sunbathe, and you can do so without the crowds.'

     

    ...fishing remains strong in the winter, and the old wooden fishing pier is always open.

     

    ...Cleanup continues on the island in the wake of the BP oil spill, but a three-mile stretch of beach is open to the public.

    Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle told the Daily Comet and Courier in early December he was hopeful that cleanup operations would be complete by early spring."

  • From New Orleans Times-Picayune, 30 December 2010:

     

    Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Continues to Foul 168 Miles of Louisiana Coastline

    by Mark Schleifstein

    "The target date of February is aimed at removing the threat of oil from areas along Louisiana's shoreline by the time migratory birds return to roost or rest on their way from Central and South America in the spring, [according to Gary Hayward, program manager of the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams]. The hope is also to assure clean beaches in advance of the tourist season on Grand Isle, Elmer's Island and Fourchon Beach.

    The 3,086 miles of targeted coastline in Louisiana, which makes up the SCAT western district, dwarfs the 1,598 miles of mostly beaches targeted for clean-up in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which comprise the eastern district. Hayward said cleanup efforts also are aimed at February completion in those states.

    'There's a lot of pressure to get it done because of the loss of the last tourist season, and they want to get open for the winter months and they want to get open for spring breakers,' he said.

    Unlike Louisiana's rough texture beaches, a mix of sand, Mississippi River sediment and organic material, beaches to the east, especially along the Florida Panhandle, are a sugary, powdery white sand that's more difficult to separate from the weathered remains from the BP spill.

    'It's really not oil. It's not sticky, it's not tacky, it's basically a very crumbly, weathered oil residue,' Hayward said. 'You can pick it up in your fingers and crumble it and it will just disintegrate.'

    ...However, the cleanup plan is still struggling with tar balls and other material washing ashore from mats of weathered oil that are located in the surf zone just off several key beach areas, including Pensacola, Fla.; Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge at Gulf Shores, Ala.; and the barrier islands off Mississippi's coast. Officials are concerned submerged tar mats may also be the source of tar balls that continue to be spotted along Grand Isle, Elmer's Island and Fourchon Beach."

  • From USA Today, 9 December 2010:

     

    Snowbirds Help Gulf Recovery
    by Marty Roney

    "Tourism officials in the areas of the Gulf Coast hit hardest by spring's BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill say winter tourism appears to be normal or better as snowbirds flock to the region in numbers approaching those of previous years.

    The return of those mostly older visitors from northern climates seeking warmer locales is 'vital' to a region that banks on tourism dollars and was battered in the summer by dwindling numbers of visitors...

    The snowbird season heats up on the Alabama and Florida Panhandle coasts in late December and early January...

    ...The snowbirds... "closely followed news of the oil spill" through news media and friends.

    ...Higher-than-average snowbird numbers are expected in northwest Florida, says Mark Bellinger, president and CEO of The Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    ...Tourism also is likely to increase this winter in Panama City Beach, a popular snowbird destination on the Florida Panhandle, says Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    ...Snowbirds are less of a tourism factor in Louisiana, says Melody Alijani, director of research and development for the state's office of tourism.

    ...Louisiana has marsh and wetlands mostly along the coast, not the wide sandy beaches of Alabama, Mississippi and the Panhandle."

  • From Lafourche Parish Daily Comet, 12/5/10:

    Grand Isle Wonders What’s Next
    by Nate Monroe

    "People on Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island live on the edge. The only road to Grand Isle, La. 1, is sinking, a victim of coastal erosion and human neglect. A large-scale project to improve the highway is only partially finished, with much of the work incomplete and no money to pay for it.

    The island itself, as a new government study detailed earlier this week, is also sinking.

    The islanders’ isolation is made even clearer in early December, when tourist season is over and many of the colorful summer camps that line the highway are unoccupied and empty.

    The sight today is a stark contrast to the summer, when the island served as a primary staging area for BP oil-spill response teams and crude washed up on the beaches. Traffic on the two-lane highway was often bumper to bumper with response vehicles...

    To residents, the empty camps and beaches, idle boats and cold temperature represent nothing out of the ordinary — these are the slow months for the island, when the camp owners, sport fishermen and revelers go home and locals can enjoy their lives in isolation.

    But some residents say this particular winter seems off. The island housed a different cast of characters this summer than the typical tourists, and many of those out-of-towners remain on the island as oil-spill cleanup work continues. While still a largely quiet place, the presence of work crews is off-putting to some residents. With fishing rodeos months away, businesses that should be closed as cold weather moves in are booked to capacity while some that should be working overtime have not worked much at all.

    Some wonder whether life on Grand Isle will ever get back to normal."
  • Here's an interesting cultural development: The new digs for the Smithsonian-affiliated Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art is finally opening tomorrow in Biloxi, Mississippi, with a design by Frank Gehry. OK, by now Gehry's done his schtick even my dinky hometown in upstate NY, but nonetheless should add a little more heft/depth to the area's touristic offerings. http://georgeohr.org.
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WHY SHOULD I SPEND MY VACATION $$$ ON A GULF COAST BEACH VACATION?

OK, what I'm going to say might make me sound like a jerk, but here goes: Last night I was having a heated discussion with my girlfriend , whose sister was planning to spend a week on the Florida panhandle in August (she'd bought tickets before the BP oil spill) and is now looking into canceling her tickets. My girlfriend thinks her sister should go anyway and show solidarity with the poor folks on the coast, and help them out with her vacation dollars. It's true those poor people need all the…

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The Fla Panhandle

I recently visited the FL Panhandle. I was impressed with how everyone kept things going despite the misperceptions on how the oil spill has affected nearby areas. Everything is alive and well from Destin to Panama City.   My first feature from the trip is on YOLO Boarding. Check it out here.   The next feature will discuss the rise of Alys Beach and much more. We will have it all up on Mens Traveler.    beaches.jpg

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Road Trip to Apalachicola

I'd like to drive over to Apalachicola from Miami in a few days. It seems to me that the oil spill is not affecting this area (my heart goes out to all the areas affected now or in the future). Can someone provide more information on the current conditions there? Are oysters still being served? Also, any stops that you recommend on my way, or in that area? My interests are: dog friendly, slow food, nature & hiking.

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