Some of the world’s biggest hotel chains and travel companies are offering “beach guarantees” to lure visitors back to Florida and the Gulf States, where tourism is reeling from the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Tourism is the biggest industry in Florida, generating annual revenues of about $60 billion and employing about one million people.
Visitor numbers are down about 10% so far this summer since the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April and began spewing millions of gallons of oil into the sea.
Marriott International, which has 15 full-service hotels in Florida, said it will offer guests a full refund prior to arrival if beaches are officially closed because of oil. It will also offer a credit equivalent to 50% of the room rate to guests who choose to stay on as well as other discounts and incentives.
“We want clients to know we are prepared to share the risk,” Marriott president Arne Sorenson said on a conference call on Thursday.
So far, the group, whose brands include the Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance chains, said it has seen few cancellations, as most of its properties are on the west coast, where beaches haven’t been affected.
“We expect there will be a decline in new bookings,” Sorenson said. “We are going to have to watch it closely.”
Marriott reported late Wednesday that second-quarter profit jumped 42% to $199 million.
Online travel company Orbitz.com has also introduced an open beach guarantee, offering visitors who have standalone reservations with participating hotels a full refund on their booking if the government closes a beach within a 20-mile radius of the resort.
Hilton Worldwide said visitors to their hotel chains in the region will also be offered the same guarantees. Guests can get a 100% refund on bookings if a beach is closed within a 20-minute drive, while early departure fees will also be waived.
“Hilton Worldwide recognizes that some travellers are hesitant to plan a beach vacation to the Gulf Coast this summer due to the uncertainty around the impact of the oil spill on the region’s beaches,” said Paul Brown, president of global brands and commercial services at Hilton Worldwide.
The offers currently run through the end of July.
BP tested a cap designed to stop the spill and succeeded for at least part of the day Thursday. The U.K.-based company is expected to pay out billions in compensation to communities hit by the disaster.
“Tourism is our livelihood, particularly in the summer months, and the best way for Americans to help support the Gulf Coast during this difficult time is to plan a trip to the region,” Mike Foster, Chairman of SouthCoast USA, a consortium set up to promote destinations in the region, said in a recent release.
U.S. Travel Association, which recently held a summit with SouthCoast USA, is working on a series of initiatives designed to bring back business and spending to the area.