Pinellas Beaches Fighting ‘Perception War’ Against Oil Spill

Clearwater Beach
Tourism officials and hotel operators worry that Clearwater and other Pinellas County beaches will suffer because potential visitors do not differentiate between beaches in the panhandle and elsewhere on Florida's Gulf Coast.
TAMPA (2010-06-30) -

It doesn't matter that the beaches in Pinellas County are still oil-free. There's oil on Florida beaches, which is enough to confuse the issue, according to Pinellas tourism officials.

“We have our fingers crossed and knocking on wood that we don’t see oil here, but the problem is, that kind of doesn’t matter in terms of public perception right now,” said David Downing, assistant director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. “What we are fighting is a perception war.”

The visitors who were going to cancel reservations have already done so, Downing said. Now he and hotel operators are worried about the calls from potential future visitors that never come.

At the TradeWinds Island Resorts, the largest resort on Florida’s Gulf coast, the cancellations have pretty much stopped. But Chief Operating Officer Keith Overton calculated that revenue at the resort’s two properties – TradeWinds Sandpiper and TradeWinds Island Grand – is down $1.7 million from the start of the spill April 21 through the end of June, compared to the last three years.

Overton, who is also the chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association this year, said some hotels and restaurants will not survive the a drop in visitors because of the oil spill.

“There are going to be some businesses that fall by the wayside, there’s no question about it,” Overton said. “The independent restaurateurs, some of the smaller operators...they’re struggling. Their banks are coming after them, they’re behind in their mortgages, [and] eventually their properties are going to be put into receivership in some cases.”

Economists say sorting out the impact of the oil spill from what was already a bad economy will be nearly impossible.

“Unfortunately, this catastrophe comes at the same time that stimulus dollars are being withdrawn,” said Christopher McCarty, director of the survey research center at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“It’s going to be somewhat difficult to separate the effects of the oil spill directly from what would've happened anyway due to the withdrawal of those stimulus dollars and a continually sluggish Florida economy.”

In any case, Overton and Downing predict a drop in bed taxes for the county because of lower revenues. They could not say how steep that drop will be since the latest bed tax figures are from April.

Click here for more on the business impacts of the oil spill on Florida Matters.

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