President Obama briefly played tourism promoter on his trip to the oil-soaked Gulf Coast on Monday.
Hoping to staunch economic damage caused by the oil spill, Obama reinforced the message that much of the coastline is open for business.
“The last point I’m going to make — and this is something that’s been repeatedly emphasized here in Mississippi, but it’s true in Florida, it’s true in Alabama and it’s true in portions of Louisiana — there’s still a lot of opportunity for visitors to come down here, a lot of beaches that are not yet affected or will not be affected,” the president said at a Coast Guard station in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“And we just want to make sure that people who have travel plans down to the Gulf area remain mindful of that,” Obama said. “Because if people want to know what can they do to help folks down here, one of the best ways to help is to come down here and enjoy the outstanding hospitality.”
And spend their money.
The president and leaders in the region have a tricky balancing act. They must warn about the impact of the spill, not appear complacent but avoid alarming tourists.
It’s a little like George W. Bush in aftermath of 911 telling Americans to remain alert, watch out for terrorists but keep on shopping.
Obama has come to the Gulf states for the fourth time since the crisis, mostly to show his concern, stay on top of the situation and vow to help the region recover. His tour includes Pensacola this time, reflecting the oil slick’s arrival to the Florida Panhandle.
Bookings are down as low as 30 percent in parts of the Panhandle during its high tourism season, apparently because of the spill and fears it will ruin the fine white sand beaches.
At the least, the region is getting lots of presidential and congressional visits.