Gulf Coast Tourism: A Well-Oiled Machine?


In a recent commercial (see below), the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail advertised the wonders of Alabama beaches, stating that "Families have been coming to Gulf shores and Orange beach for generations. It's June 2010 and nothing has changed." The spot, intended to help boost the area's threatened tourist economy, follows on the heels of a much-ballyhooed ad blitz funded by BP (BP).

In May, British Petroleum pledged $70 million to help promote the tourist industry in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi; Louisiana has its own, separate campaign. BP launched its push with "Love to See Ya," a commercial that proclaimed "The beaches are clean, the seafood is fresh and the national parks are open." It then went on to note the local and federal cleanup efforts which were working to "protect the region's economy and ecology."

It isn't hard to see why BP is kicking in money to advertise the Gulf Coast. The area's $20 billion tourism industry faces a dire threat from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and, while BP is unlikely to pick up the entire tab for the loss, chances are good that the gas company will be on the hook for at least some of the lost revenue. Paying for ads now could translate into good public relations -- not to mention lower punitive damages -- down the line. The trouble is, advertising notwithstanding, the situation looks dire for tourism in the area -- and "Welcome to the Big Greasy," while accurate, is unlikely to attract tourists.

Unfortunately, while the commercials' depictions of pristine beaches and fresh seafood offer a promising vision of a coastal wonderland, they are competing with a daily flood of ugly, dire images, including oil-soaked wildlife, angry looking gas slicks and beaches littered with tar balls. As the spill continues to get worse -- and BP's CEO Tony Hayward plumbs new depths of insensitivity -- it looks like BP will need to re-tailor its approach for an area that faces an ecological disaster of unprecedented proportions.