Here They Go Again

This time last year, all one heard was never-ending doom and gloom over the oil gushing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well and how it was affecting the beaches and wildlife along the Gulf Coast, including Northwest Florida.

Turning on the TV, one would see the same oil-coated bird over and over again — along with constant commentary about the oil heading toward the beaches and the expected tainting of the seafood supply.

In the end, other than a slight dusting of oil on the far western edges of the coast, Florida was mostly unaffected by the oil itself. Yet the perception that Florida’s beaches were covered with tar balls caused the bottom to fall out of our tourism-based economy. Phones rang off the hook with summer cancellations of resort and charter boat bookings and billions of dollars were lost during what is considered “the season” for our region.

By the end of summer, many coastal community businesses that directly relied on the tourism industry for their survival were destroyed or suffered major economic setbacks. And a trickle-down effect impacted many other businesses throughout Northwest Florida. While Tallahassee’s not exactly coastal, tourism is Florida’s No. 1 industry — a blow to the coast is a blow here and throughout the entire state.

The good news is BP has stepped up in a big way over the past year, pouring billions into the region’s economic and environmental recovery efforts. I have seen firsthand that it is working.

Spring Break was strong this year and many resorts are posting double-digit increases over their projections for summer reservations. Clearly, the public wants to come to Emerald Coast beaches to relax and escape from their everyday stresses.

But now we’re facing another media onslaught. Not over the oil threatening our beaches, but by high gas prices. A recent New York Times article proclaimed skyrocketing gas prices would prevent Americans from their annual ritual of loading up the family for a summer vacation. The same theme has been repeatedly echoed in other publications and on TV.

Here we go again. The majority of tourists who visit our region in the summer drive here — and the last thing we need is another damper on what appears to be a recovering economy.

Instead of inducing fear in American families that a driving vacation will plummet them into bankruptcy, can we take a moment and put this into perspective?

Let’s do a little math. For an example, let’s take a family that lives 750 miles from Northwest Florida’s beaches or our beautiful capital city. If they drive a car that gets 15 miles per gallon, they would use 100 gallons for a roundtrip.

In the summer of 2010, retail gas prices hovered around $2.76 a gallon. For 100 gallons, the cost would be $276. In the summer of 2011, the price for a gallon is now predicted to hit close to $4. For 100 gallons, the tab would be $400.

The difference: $124. For a weeklong vacation, that amounts to $17.71 a day.

Is that really going to keep the average American family at home, shuddering in fear under their beds? I don’t think so. If the budget is tight, eating a modest-priced dinner or lunch would even it out. Or buy one less T-shirt for each kid.

It’s unfortunate national media attention focuses so much on the negative when Americans, more than ever, need to hear some good news and be encouraged to become part of our nation’s — and our region’s — economic recovery.

The message I’d like to see? It’s time to go on a summer vacation. Get away from it all, even for a little while. Refresh your spirit and give your neighbors a little economic boost.

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