Perception of beaches improving in some spots after oil spill, falling in others
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Efforts to improve the perception of Alabama’s beaches have begun to make progress in some areas, according to a survey commissioned by Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.
The survey also reflected concerns, even within the core target audience, that local leaders may be unable to address with a marketing campaign until BP PLC finishes its deep cleaning of beaches.
While the survey found that more people now believe that the state’s beaches are clean and ready for swimming and tanning, many also doubt that the coast will be “back to normal” until summer 2011 or sometime in 2012.
Late last month, the Birmingham-based New South Research polled 1,500 people in the Southeastern U.S., such as Birmingham, Nashville, Memphis and Dallas, from which the most people visit Alabama beaches.
In a similar survey in August, about 49 percent of people believed that the state’s beaches were clean. The latest survey showed a jump to 68 percent.
The surveys divided respondents into two groups: those who had inquired with the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, and those in the general population.
Among the ones who had contact with the bureau, about 4 percent more were willing to consider a spring or summer vacation than among the same group in August.
But the general population was less likely to consider a spring or summer vacation on the Alabama coast, by as much as 15 percent.
“The drop in willingness to consider the Alabama Gulf Coast among the general population seems to represent a drop in the willingness to consider the Gulf Coast in general,” a report from the survey stated. “The willingness to consider the Florida Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Gulf Coast also dropped since August.”
Last month, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft sparked the idea of a springtime concert that would help launch the new season. That idea never gained steam, and Craft said he believes it’s now too late to woo the type of performance that could draw crowds similar to those that jammed the Bon Jovi and Jimmy Buffet concerts this year.
Craft, along with other leaders in beach communities, is expected to meet with BP on Dec. 1 to talk about how to attract visitors during the off-seasons next year.
One of the most important aspects in reviving the coast, Craft said, is ensuring that local businesses receive full payment for their spill damage claims.
“No business should fail because of this oil spill. None. We’ve got to save 2011. We can’t go through 2011 like we did 2010,” he said.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has pushed BP to wrap up a months-long deep beach cleaning project before Jan. 1. That’s when people start making plans to visit the coast, he said, and they will not visit Alabama if they believe the beaches are still struggling with oil.
“We’ve got to show them that that’s just the furthest thing from the truth,” Kennon said.