Oil Spill Taking a Toll on Fla. Tourism

People along the Florida panhandle have seen a few tar balls show up, emphasis on "few." The message in Destin is that the water is clean and the world famous sugar sands are largely pristine and open for business.

Crowds of vacationers were out enjoying fun and sun along the lovely Gulf Coast near Destin Sunday but behind the scenes officials are working frantically to ward off what they fear is as an economic disaster reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"The perception that everybody has is: No way am I going to the beaches of Florida right now because if I get in the water I'm going to get tar all over me. And it's just isn't happening today," said Dennis McKinnon, the Escambia County Chairman of the Tourism Commission.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

And it won't happen for the next few days according to the Coast Guard. They're out patrolling three miles offshore with skimmer and cleaning vessels but finding nothing significant.

"We have a crisis of reality of what is actually going on with oil, but probably even more damaging potentially is a crisis of perception," said Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association.

Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are already taking a hit due to reduced tourist bookings, but with its 770 miles of Gulf Coast line, Florida stands to lose the most which is why the state is running pro-tourism ads.

Just a 10 percent decline in tourism related business in Florida's 23 Gulf Shore counties could cost the Sunshine state $2.2 billion in revenue.

Local air brush artist Duffy Peoples said, "I'm nervous. Our livelihood depends on tourism."

For 10 years now Peoples has airbrushed T-shirts at a Destin area beach shop but is making far fewer these days and he blames the spill.

"My business is down 25 percent," he said. He says he's worried it will get worse.

And he's is right to worry. Officials say Alabama's tourism is down 50 percent so far and imagery that shows a large plume of oil heading this way could wreck Florida's season as well.
  • Cynthia Bowers

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