To the Editor,
Kathleen Koch's recent opinion piece ["The Gulf's Suffering Continues, So Should BP's Payments," July 19] appears to have relied on certain inaccurate and outdated information.
Information in her article about the estimated impact of the Deepwater Horizon accident on tourism in the Gulf appears to be based on a July 2010 prediction by the U.S. Travel Association, made only days after the Macondo well had been capped. Given the record tourism many Gulf areas have experienced since 2011, that estimate was obviously wrong, and the predicted loss did not occur.
Across the Gulf, tourism records set in 2011 were broken again in 2012. The facts and data are clear. Tourist spending in New Orleans during 2012 was the highest in history at $6 billion, a $512 million increase over 2011, the previous record year. In Alabama, revenue per available room and condo unit in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in 2012 was the highest in history and were above 2009 levels by 25 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Florida had a record 89.3 million visitors in 2012, according to preliminary data from VISIT FLORIDA. The previous record was set in 2011 when 85.9 million visitors came to Florida. Indications for 2013 are encouraging as well in most places.
Koch's op-ed also states that fish harvests are down across the Gulf. Her claim is contradicted by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that found that commercial seafood landings in the Gulf in 2011 reached their highest levels since 2000. Also, according to preliminary data from NOAA, recreational fishing landings in the Gulf during 2012 were 3 percent higher than the annual average from 2007 to 2009.
The Gulf region has undergone a tremendous recovery over the last three years and your readers are best served by having the most recent and up to date information reflecting the true state of affairs along the Gulf Coast.
Vice President & Head of U.S. Communications
Kathleen Koch responds:
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell claims that the billions of dollars in losses to the Gulf Coast tourism industry predicted by the U.S. Travel Association did not occur. He first cites tourist spending in New Orleans as proof. New Orleans was miles from any shoreline touched by oil and thus is not an accurate gauge.
Morrell does not mention the coastal counties like Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish that were at the epicenter of the spill. Plaquemines Parish in February announced it was suing BP for not only the environmental damage but lost tax revenues and "the need to market the parish to mitigate the loss of tourism and to reverse stigma damage."
Morrell also cites record tourist numbers in Florida. However, an April 2013 study by the Journal of Travel Research, the premier peer-reviewed research journal focusing on travel and tourism, found such statistics can be misleading. It examined the impact of the BP spill on Gulf tourism and found that in Florida, visitors left the Gulf beaches for those in the northeastern part of the state. So while tourism may be up in some areas, Morrell’s figures are not proof that the Florida Gulf counties have completely rebounded. Florida in April became the fourth state to sue BP for damages from the spill.
The JTR study further noted that while in some areas hotel occupancy had gone up, vacation rental revenue throughout the Gulf region declined sharply. The 2013 article also cited the $23 billion loss prediction by the U.S. Travel Association.
Regarding the BP oil spill's impact on the Gulf seafood industry, my op-ed was referring to the drop in shellfish catches, since that is what the region is best known for. I listed decreases in oyster, shrimp and crab harvests starting in 2010, which NOAA statistics confirm are still down when compared to pre-spill years. Morrell is referring to the rebound in the finfish catch of larger fish like bluefish, salmon, trout and tuna.When added together, the finfish increase obscures the continued struggles of the shellfish industry.