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Action Needed Now!

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-901492.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The threat of an oil spill is demonstrating just how fragile Florida's tourism industry is. A massive oil slick more than a hundred miles from the state's beaches and bays is apparently keeping visitors away. James Call reports tourism officials are worried.

Northwest Florida has a short tourism season compared to the rest of the state. The hotels, resorts and attractions make their money from Memorial Day through September. Mid-May is when they hire extra staff to handle reservations and early arrivals.

"They live and die by the next ninety days."

Carol Dover is president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

"If we don't do something like immediately, like by the end of this week or the first of next week, they are just going to die."

Speaking to Governor Charlie Crist, she asked, "Is there anything that you can do to help us to get some form of an immediate infusion of cash for a marketing campaign?"

Dover is also a member of the Board of Directors of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency. Meeting with the governor, directors suggested that about $10-million could save the summer tourism season if the slick stays away.

The governor is arranging a special legislative session to write a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting oil drilling in state waters. He suggests when lawmakers are in Tallahassee, the topic of money for a public relations campaign may come up.

"I think that everybody understands the importance and the urgency of this, that tourism to Florida is critical, and so as much resource as we can dedicate to this, we will do it and we'll make sure that BP helps us with it, too. They have an obligation."

BP has committed $25-million to Florida to pay for damages and to prevent further harm to the coast. The governor's legal team is reviewing the grant papers to see if that money can be used for an advertizing campaign.