Despite the oil spill's threat to the region's ecosystem and economy, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas tourism boards want visitors to know that the region's beaches, hotels, restaurants, and attractions are open for business and welcoming travelers. At press time, there are currently no travel warnings in effect, although CNN reported that oil was spotted on the Alabama coastline. Local officials are watching the course of the oil spill closely and posting updates on their state and regional tourism websites; a full roster of links is listed below.
However, there have been conflicting reports between national news media and local tourism updates on the extent of the oil spill, particularly the presence of oil on beaches throughout the Gulf Coast region. As a traveler, your best strategy is to stay informed of the situation by consulting a variety of sources including the local media, tourism officials, and your travel provider, and determining what you're comfortable with if you do plan on having a beach-focused vacation. As this situation is subject to change, keeping up-to-date and in touch is key.
"Don't assume places around the Gulf have been affected by this spill," says Dan Toporek, VP corporate communications, Travelocity Global. "Most of the top destinations, such as Florida beaches, have been unaffected ... People also seem to think that New Orleans is affected, whereas the reality is that the only thing people might experience is slightly higher seafood prices."
If you have already booked your trip and are concerned about the oil spill, get in touch with your travel provider to inquire about cancellation policies, refunds, and travel credits. Many companies are being flexible with travelers as the situation develops.
"If travelers have any concerns or questions, they can contact [local convention and visitors' bureaus (CVBs)] in those areas directly," says Wilkerson. "They have staff on the ground and in tune with the situation, and they can work with travelers in planning their vacation."
Get Regional Updates
As Wilkerson says, the best place to find the most up-to-date information on tourism and the oil spill is by visiting the state or regional CVB website of the area you're planning to visit. If you have questions or concerns as your vacation dates draw closer, it's always a good idea to get in touch with the local tourism officials directly. Access news, updates, contact information, and more resources at the following links:
- Florida state
- Florida Keys
- Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
Trip Planning Resources
Whether you've already booked a Gulf Coast vacation or are in the planning process, get in touch with the customer service department of your travel provider if you have any questions or concerns.
"We encourage all travelers to stay informed," says Katie Deines Fourcin, spokesperson for Expedia. "Expedia recognizes the situation is developing and could change. We do not charge Expedia change/cancel fees if our customers need to alter their plans. Many of our partners are also instituting flexibility policies." Expedia has also put together an oil spill advisory website with links to updates.
"Many of [Travelocity's] hotel partners in Florida are offering oil-free guarantees and will fully refund bookings if oil happens to come there," says Toporek. "We will be flagging this information for these hotels on our site. We'll of course work with our partners to try to find a solution if customers want to cancel."
Volunteer and Donation Opportunities
Perhaps you're interested in traveling to the affected Gulf areas to volunteer with cleanup and wildlife protection efforts. You can find efforts underway with the following organizations:
- Alabama Coastal Foundation
- LA Gulf Response/Louisiana Volunteer Program
- Louisiana Bucket Brigade: Help document the extent of the oil spill and assist with outreach efforts
- Matter of Trust Foundation: Donate oil-absorbent materials such as hair, fur, fleece, feathers, nylons, and more
- Mobile Bay National Estuary Program
- Mobile Baykeeper
- National Audubon Society
- National Wildlife Federation
- The Nature Conservancy
- OilSpillVolunteers.com: Get a round-up of organizations seeking volunteers, donations, and more
- Save Our Seabirds
- Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research
If you know of other organizations looking for volunteers not listed here, please submit a comment below with links and contact information.
In short, the best policy is to stay abreast of the situation. Monitor the tourism websites for the region you're planning to visit, read local newspapers online, stay in touch with your travel provider, and don't hesitate to ask questions before you go. You can also check back here at SmarterTravel, especially the Today in Travel blog, as we'll be posting updates regularly.
Have you recently vacationed in the Gulf Coast region? Tell us about your experiences by submitting a comment below! Or, are you planning on visiting the area this summer? We'd also like to know your thoughts, concerns, and questions.
June 14: CNN is reporting that bookings are down and cancellations are up at vacation rentals throughout the Gulf Coast region.
June 14: Alabama is experiencing significant oil impact at this time. Beaches are open, but the waters are considered off-limits. Swimming advisories are in place around the region.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)