Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who wants to Vacation in Hell?

One of the saddest images on the news right now is oil covered pelicans flopping around on the beaches of Louisiana. As the BP spill enters it's fifth week, CNN reports that the company has started a "goodwill" campaign by promising to bear all costs associated with the clean up. They've also given $25 million dollars to the state of Florida to promote tourism, with most dollars going to the Panhandle area, where vacation bookings are at a standstill. Today, as the company tries yet another method to stop the leak, one has to question just how much goodwill is really involved.

First, 21 miles of coastline has already been destroyed. It will not be restored. It's done. Gone. The fishing industry along the coast continues to lose millions with small bait and tackle shops, boat rentals and other associated businesses facing bankruptcy. The regional travel and tourism industry is already chalking up 2010 as a total failure. One would imagine that for those who've lost their livelihood, the idea that BP will pick up the clean up cost, or help promote tourism, provides little comfort, even if they are naive enough to believe it.

With the governmental cap placed at $75 million, BP can certainly come up with the cash, but ultimately we'll be paying the cost at the gas pump. Within the past few years we've seen $4 per gallon for gas, with an active hurricane season getting the blame for the price hike. Imagine what will happen as the destruction toll continues to climb in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Is $5-$6 dollars per gallon really an inconceivable figure? I don't think so.

As someone who sells advertising for a living I am the first to champion its value, but can a bunch of TV spots really make an impact on an area where the summer tourism season is over before it started? I've even cancelled my own panhandle vacation in spite of there being no oil on the beaches -- yet. It's hard to be optimistic when the annual 4th of July Fishing Tournament in Pensacola has already been cancelled.

Meanwhile, BP CEO Tony Hayword continues his mantra of optimism on CNN, as another attempt to stop the spill gets underway this morning. He's convinced that this latest attempt at sealing the spill with mud and cement will work. He's convinced (in his words) that this will only have a moderate longterm impact on the region. He was convinced he had the answers yesterday and the day before that.

Ultimately the best "goodwill" measure by BP would be to admit that they are solely responsible for destroying much of a region that has already been devastated in years past by natural disasters. Tony Hayword and other executives need to show "goodwill" by stepping down. President Obama needs to get busy (instead of just threatening to) and let the government take over the clean up. The region is being destroyed and no amount of goodwill or travel promotion can stop it.

So what are the answers? Only the environmentalists can truly assess the permanent damage. But one thing is perfectly clear. It's not going to do a whole lot of good to encourage vacationers to come to the Gulf Coast this summer, if the area is under a blanket of oil when they arrive. It's also unlikely that travelers will come, if gas is so high they can't afford to get there in the first place.

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