Gulf Coast states move on from oil spill

States along the Gulf Coast are hard at work developing tourism communications strategies for this summer. Most will make little or no mention of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

States along the Gulf Coast are hard at work developing tourism communications strategies for this summer. Most will make little or no mention of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that battered their economies two years ago.  

For instance, Louisiana's PR strategy for this year will focus on strategic partnerships that will help officials promote the state in new ways. On February 2, the state will hold a cross-promotional event in Manhattan that will also support the History Channel's Swamp People. It will feature food, music, and crafts from the state.

“We wanted to do some non-traditional PR and do things that have never been done before,” said LeAnne Weill, interim assistant secretary of the Louisiana Office of Tourism. “Doing PR outreach in a market like New York would usually be out of the question with our budget.”

In April, the NBA is allowing Louisiana's tourism department to host an event after a game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis, TN. Although post-oil spill funding from BP helps to make events like this possible, Louisiana isn't dwelling on the accident in its promotions.

“It was talked about and talked about. [The accident] was devastating, and there were horrible images all over national and international news, but we have overcome,” said Weill. “In Louisiana, we're kind of known for pulling on our boots and getting on with life.”

Louisiana had a tourism budget of more than $25 million for its 2011-2012 fiscal year, but Weill did not disclose how much of that amount was allocated for PR. Deveney Communications is the AOR for the state's tourism efforts.

BP has said it has given $92 million over a three-year period to help states affected by the 2010 oil spill boost their tourism.

Mississippi is also going to different markets to drum up business. This year, the state's tourism agency will have a presence at South by Southwest and the Chicago Blues Festival.

“We want visitors to come to our state. To get journalists to tell our stories, it sometimes means going to them,” said Sandy Bynum, bureau manager of the communications and advertising bureau of Mississippi's tourism division.

Mississippi also hosts media tours where it pays for journalists to come to the state, and it is planning to bolster its use of social media.

“You have to get the message to wherever the people are, and more and more people depend on social media,” Bynum said. The department develops its PR strategy in-house.

The state tourism division is a part of the Mississippi Development Authority, which has a fiscal 2012 budget of $21 million. Bynum did not provide the amount allocated to PR.

Meanwhile, Visit Florida's goal is to take greater control of the stories told about the state by ramping up the use of editorial content on its site. A team of travel writers known as “Florida Insiders” produces the content.

“We are starting to see a very powerful synergy that combines created content, earned media, PR, and outreach, and that's the future we're heading in,” said Will Seccombe, CMO of Visit Florida.

The nine Florida Insiders cover topics including family, fishing, and traveling within a budget. They also write blogs and post photos and informal videos, and answer questions from readers.

Florida's tourism budget this fiscal year is $90 million, although Seccombe declined to release the specific PR budget. Visit Florida hired Ketchum as its AOR last month.

One of Alabama's major tourism efforts for this year is “The Year of Alabama Food,” which kicked off January 27 during the FoodBlogSouth event in Birmingham, AL. The event brings together food writers, bloggers, and photographers.

The tourism initiative focuses on chefs, local produce, and gulf seafood captured in Alabama, and it includes media outreach and a social component with a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

The website YearOfAlabamaFood.com features blog posts from state chefs and an interactive element where visitors can take pictures of and post comments about places they've visited and the dishes they've tried. The tourism department is also using mobile applications and a mobile website. The overall budget for the project is $1 million.

“More people are using smartphones, and that's the market we want to go after,” said Edith Parten, media relations manager for the Alabama Tourism Department. She added that the overall tourism budget is $12 million, but did not disclose the specific PR budget. The campaign was developed in-house.

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