Florida’s tourism industry was a booming one. People came from all over the states and the world to visit the theme parks, the beaches, see the wildlife and go fishing. With the possible exception of the theme parks these are likely to be badly affected by the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The tourist industry may also be adversely affected by people’s perception of the state; whether or not things are as bad as is thought.
The Florida Tourist Board has been anxious to report that the spill has not yet reached Florida’s beaches. On first glance at least the beaches are still as beautiful as ever. This has not stopped people from cancelling trips. Florida is in a state close to the oil spill, and people planning a beach holiday were thinking of miles of beautiful sand, not sticky black oil. At the time of writing (mid May 2010) the spill was due to arrive at Florida’s northwest coast shortly and emergency orders declared to protect the coast, estuaries and rivers.
The impact on wildlife has been widely reported and images of seabirds covered in oil, dead dolphins, and struggling turtles shown all over the news. The less visible impact on the ocean ecosystem as a whole is equally devastating. With its everglades, snorkelling and dolphin watching opportunities Florida was a wonderful place for nature lovers to visit. Since all these will be affected by the spill there might be far fewer tourists coming to enjoy the wildlife. They wanted to see dolphins playing in the surf, not washed up on beaches.
Florida was immensely popular with watersports enthusiasts. The coral reefs teaming with fish were amazing places to snorkel or dive in. These are likely to be badly affected. Surfers also formed a substantial proportion of visitors and will too be put off by ruined beaches. The same goes for sports fishermen. The Florida coast was a great place for game fishing, for the immediate future at least it is not.
More indirectly the impact on the seafood industry also affects tourism. Prices of seafood go up and some won’t be available. Visitors dreaming of delicious cheap shrimp might well be disappointed.
It is estimated that the overall cost to the tourist industry in Florida will run into billions of dollars. BP is going to be paying part of this, but certainly not all. It is also not going to be covering the long term impact on one of Florida’s most important industries.
The Deepwater Horizon spill was not Florida’s fault. While the tourism industry in Florida has been responsible for damaging developments, in this case it is bearing the brunt of something it had no hand in. It is to be hoped the clean up attempts will to some degree mitigate the possible ecological and economical consequences of the disaster.
In the meantime tourists who have already booked a trip to Florida are urged not to cancel. There will still be plenty to see and some could even spend part of their holiday volunteering with wildlife rescue services.