With tar balls washing up on some Florida Panhandle beaches, the state’s largest industry could take a huge hit.
The tourism industry brings 80 million visitors a year to the state, who spend $60 billion. Tourism jobs employ just under 1 million Floridians. Even before the April 20 spill off the Louisiana coast, Florida was already struggling with the recession and unemployment that was 12 percent in April.
“The timing couldn’t be more unfortunate,” Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist, told MSNBC. “It’s going to ripple throughout Florida’s economy, and the question is, ‘How big is it going to be?'”
If the 23 counties along the state’s Gulf Coast lost half of their tourism and leisure jobs and spending because of the spill, nearly 195,000 Floridians could lose their jobs, and the state could lose $10.9 billion in spending, says a preliminary study by Snaith, the Orlando Business Journal reported today.
If the counties lost 10 percent because of the spill, the state would lose an estimated 39,000 jobs and $2 billion in spending a year, according to the study.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, said in a Monday update that tar balls ranging in size from dimes to silver dollars continue to be found in widely scattered areas along the Panhandle. The tar was being cleaned up, but the agency said additional effects of the spill should be felt within three days.
There were no beach closures, and state water remained open to fishing and other business.
Kathy Torian, a spokeswoman for Visit Florida, had no figures on the possible loss of revenue from the spill. But she said the industry had a better than expected Memorial Day weekend, in part because visitors called ahead and were reassured that the waters were clear.
“Since then, of course, actual oil has come onshore in the form of tar balls,” she said, adding that businesses “are very likely not getting anywhere near the normal bookings the would get.”