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A year after oil spill, Gulf Coast hopes for busy Memorial Day

By Aaron Cooper, CNN
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Gulf Shores lets it all 'Hangout'
  • The threat of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill kept many tourists away last year
  • BP has been providing money to states to help promote tourism
  • "We are looking for a really solid Memorial Day, and a really solid summer," says tourism official

(CNN) -- Workers involved in the tourism industry along the U.S. Gulf Coast hope this Memorial Day weekend is one of their best in a long time. The threat of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill kept many tourists away from beach communities last year.

Since the oil spill, BP has provided money to states to help promote tourism.

So far, the oil giant says it has given Florida $42 million, Mississippi $18 million, Alabama nearly $30 and Louisiana $25 million in tourism grants.

Here are some comments about Gulf Coast tourism from people who work in the sector:


Janice Jones, a marketing manager at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Visitors Bureau said she is "hopeful about this year." She said "everyone kind of looks around for the piece of wood to knock on when you say that."

In addition to the 2010 oil spill, the area was also devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Jones said for Memorial Day weekend she is conservatively estimating that about 75% of hotel rooms will be booked -- a number that would be 10% more than in 2010 and the highest level in at least three years.

Additionally, she said the hotels this year will be filled with tourists, while last year they were filled largely with BP cleanup workers, who generally didn't spend money on tourist activities.


Herb Malone, president and chief executive of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism said lodging rates have been climbing. "Since October 2010, we have seen an upward trend every month."

Memorial Day tourism numbers for beach areas are up, even compared to years before the spill.

Malone added, "We are seeing increases over 2009 figures, which is a good indication that things are moving in the right direction."


Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida said "we are looking for a really solid Memorial Day, and a really solid summer."

Most of Florida's beaches never saw any crude come ashore.

The area impacted last year by the oil, or rumors of oil, is "clearly bouncing back and it's a big bounce" he said. "Northwest Florida is going to have an incredible rebound year."


"We are looking much better for recreational tourism this year," said Jacques Berry, spokesman for the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

He said a study shows "we are rebounding well on a regional basis (but) we still have work to do nationally with the perception about Louisiana seafood."

Much of the state's tourism centers around eating and catching seafood.

"Locals (in the region) are quicker to understand what is going on," said Jill Kidder, co-executive director of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association. "We are open and ready for business."

Friday, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries opened a six-mile stretch of beach known as Elmer's Island for the first time since it was hit by the oil.

It comes at a good time, Berry said. "Red snapper season opens this weekend and that is exactly where they all go."