The Economic Impact of the Gulf Oil Leak on Florida's Tourism
Florida's Tourism Industry
Tourism means business, huge business, in Florida. Most often when people think of Florida, they think beaches, but tourism also extends away from the beaches into the middle parts of the state where millions of kids and adults thrill to the sight of Mickey Mouse, roller coasters and more theme parks than… well, more theme parks than you can see in a week.
Tourism brought 80 million people to Florida in 2009 and brought approximately $50 billion into Florida’s economy. The tourism industry employs hundreds of thousands of people directly – in theme parks, hotels, resorts and gift stores – and more hundreds of thousands of people indirectly – in restaurants, rental car agencies, beach stores, water activities, fishing boats, cruises, and too many others to mention.
The oil leak that began on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico has the potential to destroy Florida’s beach tourism and fishing industry. From the mouth of the Mississippi River to Florida’s panhandle, fishing has already been stopped. Businesses along the beaches of Pensacola and other small panhandle towns are feeling the effects of the oil spill as much as Louisiana and Alabama.
The panhandle beaches were once popular for family beach vacations. Less crowded than the beaches around Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Daytona, and not nearly as rowdy, families rented cabins for the week or stayed overnight in one of the many hotels. With the pall of the oil leak hanging over this area, vacation rentals have all but halted and hotels that were filled to capacity in March for Spring Break are finding it difficult to find even 40% occupancy.
Further down the coast in the Tampa area and down to Naples, the fear of the unknown hangs in the air. No one is quite sure yet these beaches will be affected or not, if muddy-looking sludge and dead sea life will start washing ashore or not. For now, hoteliers and patrons are taking a wait-and-see attitude but overseas guests and those from around the country call hotels such as the Hilton and Hyatt nearly daily to ask if there is any change, concerned that perhaps they should cancel their reservations. The Tampa area lays claim to America’s Best Beach title in 2008 for Caladesi Island State Park and in 2009 for Fort de Soto State Park, making this area prime beachfront for vacationers and exquisite natural habitat for wildlife.
Though the oil leak appears to be contained right now with BP’s use of a tube over the leaking pipe, residents and visitors still worry whether the “fix” will hold and how much oil is floating around out there. With 200,000 gallons leaking every day for the past 27 days, it seems inevitable that a lot of Florida’s coastal areas will eventually be affected. The tourism industry could potential take a $25 billion strike, forcing employers to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers in a state already facing 13%+ unemployment.
Besides the tourism industry, the recreational fishing industry will also take a huge hit, adding another $5 billion strike to the economy. Florida’s fishing industry is closely tied to the tourism industry because so many anglers come to Florida for a vacation or to participate in one of the many fishing tournaments held every year. In fact, Florida is considered the fishing capital of the world and is definitely the fishing capital of North America. Florida provided 46.3 million days of fishing in 2006 (compare to #2 Texas at 41.1 million days). Florida has 858,000 non-resident anglers, 2.77 million anglers over the age of 16, and over 1.5 million fishing licenses sold annually.
For the fishermen and most of the beachgoers, whether visitor or resident, the biggest strike comes to the wildlife. Florida has 1,197 miles of coastline and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline. It has 663 beaches, over 4,500 islands larger than 10 acres (second in the nation behind Alaska), and more than 11,000 miles of rivers, waterways and streams. That’s a whole lot of places for oil to go and wreak havoc.