Gulf Shores Baldwin County
Baldwin lodging suffered greatest impact of oil spill, tourism president says
GULF SHORES, Ala. — Baldwin suffered more lodging revenue losses during the summer oil spill than any nearby Gulf Coast county, Herb Malone, president and chief executive officer of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, told a crowd of business owners Friday.
At the height of the spill — from May through August — lodging revenue in south Baldwin alone was down more than 41 percent from 2009, and retail sales were down 23 percent, Malone said after breakfast at Lulu’s at Homeport Marina with the Alabama Gulf Coast Area Chamber of Commerce.
Countywide, lodging revenue fell 33 percent during the summer, a blow costing about $58 million, Malone said. Comparably, Mobile County lodging increased 54 percent over the same period in 2009.
Malone presented a slideshow of news headlines that predicted oil on the beach as early as April, although the first tarballs did not arrive in Alabama for another two months.
“Whether oil was coming or not, these headlines had already done tremendous damage to us,” Malone said. “By the second weekend of June, our worst nightmares had come true.”
Before the spill, officials anticipated 3.4 million visitors to Pleasure Island this summer, who would spend upward of $1.4 billion.
The good news, Malone said, was that the economic losses were not as deep as expected after the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that sent oil gushing into the Gulf. Some dire predictions called for business losses of 50 percent to 60 percent.
The monthly First Friday Forum attracts elected officials such as Orange Beach Councilman Jeff Silvers, a manager at the lumber and building materials company Swift Supply.
“All of us have struggled — every business asset in here,” Silvers said. “But we’re very optimistic business will return with some normalcy.”
Likewise, Malone sought to paint bright edges on an otherwise gloomy picture, pledging, for example, that coastal communities would work hard to establish an economically strong summer in 2011.
A series of concerts has demonstrated that tourists will be back, he said.
Malone ended his talk by showing a video of the July 11 Jimmy Buffett concert on the beach, and Buffett saying, “We’re here to save the day.”
Malone asked the audience to pause.
“Makes you feel good, don’t it?” he said.
Malone said he expects an intense marketing campaign to attract future tourists from “core markets,” like northern Alabama, Atlanta and Tennessee. The deep cleaning of beaches through the rest of the year and early next year will help, too, he said.
“We will be back in 2011,” Malone said. “All we have to do is get that stuff out of the sand and get it gone.”