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Gulf Tourism Still Down, But Deep Discounts Abound

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A bit of Presidential influence, an American Idol and plenty of deep discounts are just a part of the campaign to bring tourism to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.

Gulf Coast tourism, down 30 to 60 percent in August, still is feeling the ill effects of negative media coverage. Fearful that oil drifting ashore might spoil seaside vacations, many prospective domestic and international visitors have stayed away.

In order to quell the public’s fear of swimming in the beaches and waters of the Gulf Coast, the first family did its part to improve tourism over the weekend.

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha embarked on a 27-hour trip of the Florida Panhandle on Saturday. The trip was designed to reinforce the cleanliness and safety of the water to travelers.

Supporting that message, the President and his daughter dipped into the waters of Saint Andrew Bay off Alligator Point on Saturday and toured the waters off Panama City Beach by boat on Sunday.

With 16 of the 180 beaches on the western part of the Florida Panhandle affected by the spill, Floridian travel providers and officials are hopeful that the president’s brief stop will make an impact on public perception.

Learn more in our Beach Vacations section.

However, some Gulf Coast states have opted to de-emphasize beach tourism in favor of campaigns focusing on other attractions.

President Obama & daughter Sasha swim in Gulf of MexicoOn Sunday, tourism officials at the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism announced that the state would be highlighting its musical roots in upcoming media campaigns. Included in the state’s plans are a series of commercials—starring Alabama native and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks—which will air August 23 or 24.

Hicks is also part of a one-hour television special taping tonight at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Mississippi. The special, airing on the CW network on August 27, includes segments on excursions and tourism sights in Mississippi intermitted with musical guests.

The television special was an initiative from Governor Haley Barbour’s office.

Though most states are looking at media campaigns to jump-start the coast’s travel industry, individual properties along the coast are appealing to consumers’ pocketbooks.

Travel providers in the region are trying to lure in vacationers with deep discounts—some of which are subsidized by BP.

Bargains are not unusual in late summer and early fall, when the states’ tourist traffic traditionally slows. This year travel providers are working especially hard to salvage the rest of the season, offering extra incentives to tourists.

These incentives include reduced room rates, resort credits, percentage-off deals on restaurants and spas, and a third or fourth nights free when a guest buys two or three nights.

And of course, for the traveler still skeptical about safety of Gulf Coast beaches, refunds and waived cancellation fees are still being provided.

By Adriana Padilla at

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