Although the northwest Florida Gulf coast saw little physical impact from last year’s BP oil spill, the region’s leisure and meetings business suffered from guilt by association.
“It did hurt us in numbers,” said Pamela Watkins, director of sales and special events for Visit South Walton. “In northwest Florida, we were grouped together. We didn’t have any oil, but the public perception was that we did. Our numbers were down drastically.”
The area has bounced back quickly, helped in part by commercials and part by visitors’ word of mouth.
“We had our best summer ever in 2011, groups and leisure,” she said. “And 2012 is looking good. In the past, people tended to book far out, and they are doing the same now; they know everything here is fine. We feel like we are going to have a great spring and summer.”
The oil spill scare had an upside. “Last year, the oil scare brought the region together. Everyone realizes the value of working together,” Watkins said. “If we can’t handle [a meeting], we tell our neighbors to the east and west. We want to keep it in the region. The properties work together.”