PENSACOLA BEACH — Florida tourism officials sought Thursday to avert a coastal disaster of vacant hotels, idle fishing boats and empty restaurants caused by the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We have had a numerous amount of cancellations across the Panhandle,” Carol Dover, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said during a press conference orchestrated to reverse that economic tide. “We’re beginning to see a lot of really mass hysteria among a lot of people who are planning on traveling to Florida for their summer vacations.”
Federal authorities have repeatedly warned that thick mats of crude oil floating on the Gulf of Mexico are likely to wash ashore somewhere between eastern Louisiana and western Florida. But they have been stymied in trying to predict when and where that will happen.
In the meantime, response crews have deployed nearly 145,000 feet of floating booms to protect waterways and wetlands in the Pensacola area, and many business owners have begun to fear the worst for what otherwise was shaping up to be the most lucrative summer since Hurricane Ivan hit the Panhandle in 2004.
“We are here to tell you today, Florida is open for business,” Dover said.