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Tourism Industry Still Waiting for BP Ad Money

May 20, 2010 - 6:00pm

Florida's tourism industry has yet to receive the $25 million in emergency cash it needs to immediately advertise that Floridas beaches are open and unsullied by oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, and there is still no word of when or how the industry will receive the money promised by BP earlier this week.

In the meantime, the states public-private tourism marketing corporation was rushing Friday to get TV ads promoting Florida beaches and tourist destinations on the air using the limited emergency funds it already possesses. One of the advertisements will appear on TV this weekend.

The tourism industry is concerned that the constant news of the BP oil spill is discouraging tourists from vacationing in the state. Industry members on the board of directors for quasi-public tourism marketer Visit Florida said last week that reservations at hotels and restaurants in the Panhandle dropped from the 90th percentile into the teens.

Oil from the BP spill, which has been gushing into the Gulf for more than a month, has yet to arrive on Florida shores, but it has entered the loop current that could bring it to the Keys and East Coast. Depending on the direction of the flow, it could also steer the oil away from the state.

Visit Florida is eagerly anticipating the much-needed BP money, said spokesperson Kathy Torian, and it so far has avoided being too discouraged by the slow pace.

What good would that do? The process is just the process, she said.

Visit Florida directors trying to reduce the spills impact on the industry that generates $65 million in the state asked Gov. Charlie Crist more than a week ago to secure $34.75 million to combat bad and inaccurate press. Of that money,$24.75 million would go toward a state and nationwide campaign and $10 million would go toward campaigns on a county level. With the corporation now getting less than it asked for, Visit Florida is reworking its campaign plan, which Torian said the board planned to present by Tuesday.

Crist went to BP with a request for $35 million and this week announced that BP was pledging $25 million. He has not finalized the agreement with the oil giant. The marketing money comes from $70 million being disbursed to four Gulf Coast states. Florida is getting more than any of the states. The others -- Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -- will receive $15 million.

Visit Florida spent Friday waiting for approval from the governors office to air advertisements for Florida beaches and tourist destinations on national TV. By the end of the day, it planned to air one of the ads, this one focusing on both beaches and tourist attractions. The group's primary ad, which just focuses on beaches, could air early next week. The ads will run on network TV from the East Coast to Texas.

The ads are paid for by $2 million in funding fromthe Florida Office of Tourism, Transportation and Economic Development and $500,000 from the corporations funds.

The presiding officers of the state House and Senate have urged quick delivery of the funds and an account of how they will be used. On Thursday, Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, wrote Crist urging that he make public -- and as soon as possible -- a Memorandum of Understanding showing how the BP funds would be sent to the state, distributed and spent.

Jill Chamberlin, spokesperson for outgoing House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said that the prospect of emergency money for the tourism industry is encouraging, but his office has the same questions as Atwaters.

Our staff is looking at exactly what the mechanics will be of receiving this money and spending it, she said. Until then, I think we will reserve judgment on spending.

Reach Alex Tiegen at atiegen@sunshinestatenews or at (561) 329-5389.

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