Castor: BP needs to tell tourists beaches are OK
BP should spend more money to help fix Gulf Coast tourism woes instead of dishing out dollars to polish its corporate image, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said this morning. Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, told members of the House subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection that the oil company needs to do more to help the tourism industry in Florida and other states. She blasted the company for spending too much money buying television commercials and full-page newspaper advertisements, and she wants to know how much the ads have cost. "If you own a TV, you have seen the incessant ads from BP," she said. "They remind me of political ads." Hotels across Florida are reeling from cancellations and the lack of bookings. Tourists from overseas countries or elsewhere in the United States see the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and think all of Florida is affected, officials have said.Castor talked of the "beautiful beaches'' ranging from Pinellas County down to Sanibel and how tourism there has been negatively affected by the oil, which flowed from a ruptured well nearly three months because of the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig south of Louisiana. "There's no oil there," Castor said of Florida's west coast beaches. "The oil is hundreds and hundreds of miles away.'' Still, she said, many prospective tourists think otherwise. "We've got to turn that perception around,'' Castor said.Keith Overton, chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and an executive at the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach, told lawmakers of the huge financial loss his facility and others have suffered. He said Florida is known for sunshine, blue waters, white beaches and fresh seafood. "All of these characteristics have been damaged by the perception that Florida's beaches are covered in oil," Overton said. "All of these losses have occurred to these resorts without a drop of oil." Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, encouraged that $500 million be set aside for a marketing campaign to let tourists know that most beaches along the Gulf Coast are safe. "We'd like to remove the politics. We'd like to remove the special interests,"' Dow said. "We need to cap the damages long term. "We can turn this around. We can mitigate it. Nothing is more important than getting this fund and putting it in place."
Reporter Rob Shaw can be reached at (813) 259-7999.