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Deep Horizon spill bolsters local tourism

Jonathan Dumbacher has not been going back to his hometown of Pensacola Beach very much this summer due to the oil spill. He has been spending his summer in Jacksonville while workers continue to clean the gulf. Though Pensacola beach is looking a lot better now, the civil engineering junior said the first few months of the spill were not pretty.

“What you see is like big clumps of like the brownish-reddish oil-like muck. You can walk out on the pier and you can see like big slicks of oil out there. It’s wild,” Dumbacher said.

The spill turned Pensacola Beach into a ghost town. The catastrophe, which started after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, hit beach businesses the worst. According to Dumbacher, the hotels in Pensacola are dead. He heard the only people you see in them are reporters, he said.

“There’s no tourists out there. Zero,” he said. “The people living on the beach could smell diesel for like two months, three months.”

Pensacola’s tourism economy has taken a big hit from the spill, but Jacksonville Beach and St. Augustine Beach businesses are benefiting from the decline in western Florida’s business. Many hotels at these beaches are seeing increases in occupancy.

Celeste Kuhar, general manager for the Holiday Inn Hotel at St. Augustine Beach, said they are doing better than last July. She sees a lot more Alabama and Mississippi license plates in the parking lots.

“The oil spill has helped us. The 50-percent down that the gulf coast is experiencing is coming to us.”

Kuhar believes that her hotel is getting its money back after losing business due to wildfires in 1998.

“It’s really too bad that the pain on the gulf coast is our gain, but it was just the opposite with the fires of ‘98.”

Jeff Truhlar, General Manager for the Courtyard Marriott Jacksonville Beach Oceanfront believes there is a direct correlation between the hotel’s four percent increase and the spill. Business is also up by 20 percent from last year at the Casa Marina Hotel, said General Manager Mark Vandeloo.

While many of the larger chain hotels are doing well, the restaurant business is having mixed results. Tom Sprowell, coowner of Campeche Bay Cantina in Jacksonville Beach said overall sales are down by 15 percent.

Sprowell is unsure as to the cause and said it could be a mixture of economic problems as well as the oil spill.

Sharon Mcree, General Manager for Bukkets at Jacksonville Beach, said business is down because of the lack of seafood coming in to their business.

Compared to a few months ago, things are looking better for Pensacola.

Bruce Parris, general manager at The Dock in Pensacola Beach, said cleanup efforts have been very good on the beach and that the beaches are not being closed.

Similarly, Holiday Inn Express front desk clerk Janet Smith said business is getting better and the hotel is frequently sold out.

Dumbacher thinks it is awesome BP capped the leak July 15, but is disappointed in how long it took for them to do so.

“I really feel like they should have stepped it up … it kinda messed up our whole summer,” he said.

John Schrock, a finance junior, went back to see the Blue Angels July 10 in Pensacola beach and said the event was a big success for the area. It included a special concert by Jimmy Buffett which had a large turnout, he said.  Schrock is optimistic about the cleanup, but is worried about the hurricane season’s potential effect on the cleanup process.

“All we need is one hurricane to come in and there’d be oil on almost everybody’s house everywhere,” Schrock said.

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