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BP Offers Cash for Oil Spill States’ Tourism Marketing

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Panama City Beach Pier - once a top fishing spotBP has agreed to pay $70 million in grants over the coming months to help promote tourism around the oil-threatened shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

The grants would provide $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The states’ governors will be allowed to distribute the money as they see fit to help promote tourism to their states.

The grants are on top of $25 million the oil giant has already paid the four states to subsidize the cost of preparing coastal regions for a possible landfall of the oil slick.

BP had been under increasing pressure in the last few weeks to contribute to Gulf Coast states’ marketing plans to help counter negative press.

Earlier this month, Florida Governor Charlie Crist requested $34.75 million from BP to create an advertising blitz that would help Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation, convince nervous tourists to travel to the state.

BP, formerly British PetroleumThough Crist did not receive the full amount of funds he requested, tourism groups in Mississippi received more grant money than expected.

Mississippi had requested a $7.5-million-a-month sum for a national media campaign that would shift the focus from the state’s beaches to its casinos, entertainment and family attractions.

The BP money, however, may not be enough to bring vacationers back to the beach, especially over the crucial Memorial Day weekend.

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In Florida, hotels have reported hundreds of canceled reservations and booking volumes that are significantly less than the year before.

Panama City Beach Pier - once a top fishing spotAt the Chateau Motel in Panama City Beach, General Manager Kevin Brackins reported occupancy rates of only 50 percent for Memorial Day weekend. During the same time last year, the hotel had a 90 percent occupancy.

Hilton properties across Florida coast have also report diminished reservation rates.  Bookings are down 50 to 60 percent in comparison to 2009. And last weekend, Paradise Found Resorts & Hotels also in Panama City Beach suffered 50 room cancellations according to Julie Hilton, the resort’s Executive Vice President.

To combat tourists’ fears of oil-closed beaches, many hotels have begun to offer money-back guarantees similar to those given for hurricanes.

The Chateau Motel, for example, offers a money back guarantee if the hotel’s beaches are closed due the oil spill.  The hotel also offers a 24-hour cancellation option if the beach is “adversely affected” by the oil spill.

In addition to the $95 million that BP has paid to the states, the company has also shelled out $300,000 to claims filed in Florida alone. No claims have been denied so far.

By Adriana Padilla for PeterGreenberg.com.

Related Links: News-Herald, BP.com, St. Augustine

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