As the disastrous Gulf oil spill spreads, one Tampa Bay operator is helping publicize a non-hysterical version of events to preserve valuable summer business.
CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — As daily images of a huge oil slick discolor Gulf Of Mexico maps used throughout the media, operator Ken Lucci understands how perception can outpace reality.
Since the Deepwater Horizon well blew in April, the central western coast of Florida near Tampa Bay has seen a steady decline in tourists and meeting events, Lucci said.
“The biggest concern is that meeting planners will not recommend Florida, and our group business will suffer,” said Lucci, owner of AMBASSADOR LIMOUSINE AND SEDAN INC. of Clearwater Beach, which operates a fleet of 38 vehicles. “We lost an $18,000 piece of business because a Delaware meeting planner chose Savannah, Ga. instead.”
This is happening despite the fact that the nearest tar balls are along the western tip of Florida’s Panhandle — at least 480 miles from Tampa Bay. As is often the case, distances measured on a map never do justice to distances on the ground.
“The whole West coast of Florida is fine, but with the way the media is reporting, you would think our beaches are decimated with oil,” Lucci said. “We’re taking matters into our own hands.”
To that end, Lucci picked up 10 gallons of pristine white sand from Clearwater Beach, put them into 500 small bottles, and mailed them to 500 meeting planners nationwide. Each bottle is wrapped in a flier that says the water is clean and the beaches are clear.
“We’re also sending crystal decanters to media outlets nationwide with sand in them, saying that our beaches are fantastic,” said Lucci, hoping to balance the pessimistic, emotional news coverage.
Some of Lucci’s local hotel clients are working with him to get the “message in a bottle” out to potential visitors, but so far, no other operators are participating.
Lucci also has spoken on a local AM radio station that has 12 affiliates in other regions of the U.S. to get the message out.
“We usually have a great European summer,” he said, referring to the influx of foreign tourists this time of year. “But that’s not proving to be the case.”
— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine