United States

Summer of Discontent on the Gulf Coast, and in Arizona

The Gulf Coast oil spill and the Arizona boycott continue to roil incentive travel in those locales

By Leo Jakobson
June 24, 2010

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Oily bird BP Gulf Coast
May was no less cruel a month than April for two major incentive travel destinations: the Gulf Coast and Arizona. As the end of the month saw a failed attempt to cap the BP oil well that is spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the slick has begun washing up on Louisiana’s fragile wetlands and may make its way to both the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Florida, according to scientists. And in Arizona, a boycott of the state over a new law targeting illegal immigrants continues to damage the state’s hospitality industry.

Oil and Water Don’t Mix for Gulf Coast
The BP oil spill is proving particularly frustrating for the Gulf Coast and western Florida because it is threatening their respective incentive and meetings markets before any actual environmental damage to their beaches has occurred—or even before it becomes clear that any damage will occur.

“We’re being as proactive as possible to educate our planners and visitors that we’re open for business and unaffected by the spill,” says David Downing, deputy director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re using social media to get the message out. We linked the live webcam from the beach to our Web site when we realized there could be a perception problem,” Downing says. “There’s nothing like seeing people on the beach. A picture says a thousand words.”

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, group cancellations are less of a problem than booking new business, says Richard Forester, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. Notes Forester: "The [group market] understands what this destination is about. There is so much to do that is not on the beach—this is a huge gaming destination."

Kelly Schultz of the New Orleans Metropolitan CVB anticipates less of a problem. "New Orleans is 100 miles inland and doesn’t anticipate any impact on visitor levels from the spill," she says

Arizona Immigration Law Boycott Threatens Group Business, Jobs
In the weeks after Arizona enacted controversial immigration legislation, a statewide travel boycott called for by opponents has escalated, with cities including Seattle and Los Angeles enacting formal boycotts. In mid-May, Phoenix placed its overall loss of group and leisure tourism to the boycott at $90 million.

Douglas MacKenzie, director of communications for the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, says, “We think it’s misguided to use tourism as an issue in this. One of our main concerns is making sure the more than 200,000 families who rely on the tourism industry in Arizona don’t lose their jobs in this economy.”

Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Vice President Brent DeRaad is aware of five or six group cancellations, “but it has also impacted potential business.” He notes, “What we’ve found is we are spending a lot of time correcting misperceptions.”

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