J Term in New Orleans

During January 2011, 12 J-Term students in the course “Environmental Communications: Lessons Learned from the BP Oil Spill” will travel with Nina Flournoy, senior lecturer of communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts, on a 10-day journey to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to examine the communication strategies surrounding the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history

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The trouble with tourism

Bella.jpg An update from Bella, a senior CCPA major:

NOLA1.jpg We’ve been talking about everything from environmental issues to the impact on seafood, but tourism is something that has been damaged just as extensively and deserves the same amount of attention and concern in the aftermath of the oil spill.

While the BP spill directly impacted the environment and land of the coastal states, it has also affected tourism. Dirty beaches, fears over seafood safety and negative media reports all contribute to the downturn in Gulf-area tourism.

BP stepped up to address this matter by providing a $70 million tourism grant for the coastal states to use in the recovery process. Although on the surface this may seem like a responsible gesture on BP’s part, states like Louisiana argue that the money has been divided unfairly.

While Florida did not receive nearly the damage that other states suffered, BP granted that state a total of $52 million to boost tourism. Louisiana received only $45 million, while Alabama and Mississippi each received $15 million. Granted that Florida’s tourism produces six times the revenue of Louisiana’s tourism, but the fact is, the negative media focus wasn’t aimed at Florida’s beaches and cities, compared to Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Those coastal states with the most negative press will have the most difficult time bouncing back financially. And Louisiana, which suffered enormous loss since Hurricane Katrina, was just beginning to bring tourists back to its cities when the oil spill struck.

New Orleans-based Deveney Communications has worked with the city of New Orleans to revive tourism through media campaigns focusing on successful progress in New Orleans despite the last two disasters. The firm’s specific messages center on music, cuisine, outdoor experiences and Louisiana’s culture. Special rates for hotel accommodations have been advertised, and images of life and culture in New Orleans have been promoted through the “Reel Louisiana” campaign. This includes a website that allows anyone to post videos and pictures of their experiences in Louisiana. Despite the strong reaction to the campaign, there is still no guarantee that tourists will come down to visit New Orleans.

Debatably, the Gulf coast spokespeople claim their region has suffered more damage to its economy because businesses depend almost solely on the tourism. There is about 32 miles of beautiful beaches that brought in over 4.6 million guests in 2009. These guests spent an average of $2.3 billion, which helps pay for more than 40,000 travel-related jobs.

When the oil spill hit in April, it also hit the tourism market at the worst possible time before the summer rush. The Office of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism estimated the area recorded a 47.5 percent decrease in lodging and a 27.5 percent decrease in retail sales in the summer of 2010. The most challenging aspect was, and continues to be, public misperception. Herbert Malone, the CEO of Gulf Shores Tourism, explained that in light of the situation, the only way to earn the public trust so the tourists will know it is safe and clear of oil is to be honest and transparent, even when the news is bad.

Despite disasters, natural or manmade, cities such as New Orleans remain resilient. But they insist that the best way to help in the aftermath of something like the oil spill is to come and visit. Leaders along the Gulf Coast concur. Put simply, the best way to help these popular tourist destinations during the recovery is to stay in their hotels and enjoy their attractions. Be a tourist.

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