No matter how available cheap airplane tickets are or discount hotel rooms, concern over whether there may be oil on beaches is negatively impacting hotel bookings in the Florida Panhandle. Reservations are down anywhere between 30 to 50 percent compared to last year.
Ironically except for three beaches in Louisiana, all of the Gulf's beaches are open, safe and clean. President Obama commented last week that "Americans can help by continuing to visit the communities and beaches of the Gulf Coast." The travel business is hurt during any publicized natural disaster, but some of the loss is replaced by those coming to the communities to help in the recovery.
Hotels are complaining that there is no evidence of any oil on their beaches and pointing out that charter fishing boats are successfully continuing their operations, but the perception is that there is oil on Gulf beaches.
To try to assuage unwarranted concerns about oil problems, many hotels have changed their cancellation policies or offered to refund room rates if guests see any oil on the beach.
The Resort Collection of Panama City Beach, which operates six hotel properties, has an ad on its Facebook page which proclaims "The only oil on our beach is suntan oil!" Sounds sticky.
Cancellations at beach hotels have been slowed where hotels have started offering oil free beach guarantees. As word continues to get out that most beaches are oil free, hotel operators are hoping that they will experience more last minute bookings than normal.