Ocean Protection
October 14 2015

Tourism and Oil Spills Don’t Mix

by Brian Case

(Photo: Suzanna Evans)

Oceana recently released a fact sheet detailing the economic impacts to tourism after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Analyses found that tourism significantly declined after the spill, even in neighboring Gulf States that were largely free of oil on their beaches. Hotels and restaurants throughout the Gulf experienced difficulty booking events, and Internet search analytics showed a marked decrease in tourism interest in the region. Leisure visitor spending in Louisiana alone dropped by $247 million in 2010, with a total loss of $422 million over three years.

These lessons were not lost on business leaders on the Atlantic coast. Earlier this month, 300 businesses sent a letter to President Obama expressing their opposition to proposals that would allow offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast. The letter voiced concern about the continued viability of their $4 billion fishing industry, the health of ocean ecosystems, and threats to recreational businesses.

Many of the signatories were outspoken about how their livelihoods would be affected by the imminent threat of an oil spill in nearby waters. An Environment America press release quoted two of the business owners who signed the letter:

Cola Vaughan, owner of Cola Vaughan Reality in North Carolina, wrote that “our entire economy is based on the reputation of our beaches as [being] clean.” Jeff Downey, owner of the Circa 1875 restaurant on Georgia’s waterfront, said that “the delicious food, the variety of businesses, the opportunity to experience what Georgia’s coast has to offer – all stands to lose if offshore drilling moves forward.”

Millions of visitors visit East Coast beaches every year. Just this month, a number of events demonstrate the vitality of the Atlantic’s tourism sector and just what could be lost if the region experienced a tragedy similar to the disaster in the Gulf. On Virginia Beach, the 42nd Annual Neptune Festival offers concerts, outdoor shopping, a 5K run, fireworks, volleyball tournaments, and sand-sculpture displays. Further south, the Outer Banks will soon attract the country’s best amateur surfers to carve up the waves off Jennette’s Pier.  It will be the Eastern Surfing Association’s  biggest event of the year. The attraction of these events depends on pristine, healthy beaches, and an oil spill would send millions of tourists and their dollars elsewhere.

The residents and businesses of the Atlantic coast know that the viability of these festivals and their contribution to local economies are inextricably linked to the health of the ocean. All of the industries that were hurt by the Gulf oil spill are represented in the coalition of offshore drilling opposition—including hotels, boating clubs, restaurants, fisheries, real estate agencies, photography studios, and surf shops. They understand that without necessary action, someday their beautiful shores are destined to be populated with oil cleanup crews instead of crowds of festival-goers. They know that tourism and oil spills don’t mix.

Get Oceana’s Fact Sheet on Oil Spills’ effects on tourism here

Visit Surfrider’s Ocean Recreation Study here

Also, check out Surfrider's new video: Protecting the Atlantic