What the Gulf Oil Spill Means for Tourists
Right now, there are a whole bunch of nervous tourists on Gulf Coast beaches ready to twitch away at the first sight of black oil washing onto those pristine white sands. Parents are expressing concern about having their children swim in Florida’s western waters, diving and fishing charters are being called off in the Keys, birds and turtles crying tears of oil are washing up on shore in Mississippi, no one’s ordering the N’awlins oysters, and many regional Gulf Coast resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals are fielding cancellation calls for as far away as August. But are the worries to tourists overblown?
At this point, it’s very hard to say, but all indications are that what’s happened in the Gulf is nothing short of unprecedented. And this is a region that’s been through the ringer in recent years. Pounded by catastrophic hurricanes, places like New Orleans and Biloxi are still dealing with the economic aftermath of Mother Nature’s fury, and a preventable event like this oil spill is the very sad equivalent of kicking someone when they’ve been down and are in the defiant and spirited act of getting back up.
This is also an event that can’t really be compared to the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. While it remains to be seen which of these two events is the larger spill in tonnage, there’s no doubt that the Gulf region is much more economically active than that near isolated Valdez. The fisherfolk who stock up so many tourist-frequented restaurants from Texas to Florida are worried about their livelihoods, and, right now, are having to join the volunteers and BP employees who are scurrying up and down the coast on foot and by boat frantically attempting to contain a situation that surged very quickly beyond anyone’s control.
According to an article in the Washington Post, a worst-case scenario is that oil could be carried by currents as far up the East Coast as Cape Hatteras. Only time will tell. But, for now, I say hold onto your vacation plans, and keep fingers crossed for a speedy—and successful—clean-up effort, and for continued resilience in a spectacular, much-loved region that desperately deserves a good break.
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.