The perception of totally tarred beaches is what made their tourism numbers drop in 2010.
However, with the help of b-p and loyal visitors, Panama City beach has rebounded.
For three months, every day, thousands of gallons of oil spewed from a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
The spill caused damage to marine and wildlife habitats, and put a halt on fishing and tourism industries.
“2010 was tough and the biggest issue we faced was uncertainty whether the oil was going to make it here or not, and the severity of the oil.” CEO of the Panama City Beach visitors bureau Dan Rowe said.
After playing the waiting game, Rowe says Panama City got lucky.
“When it arrived fortunately we were blessed by tides wind mother nature and the grace of god that we never got the heavy oil that other beaches got. But that didn’t diminish the fact that there was so much uncertainty.” Rowe said.
Although Panama City beach wasn't hit too hard, Rowe says overcoming the national perception was an obstacle.
“Because 24 hours news coverage of the oil spill everybody thought that the gulf coast was blanketed with oil.” Rowe said.
According to Rowe, these thoughts caused Panama City beach tourism numbers to fall in 2010.
In fact the beach town says a fifteen percent drop in July of that year.
This affected all businesses and restaurants in the area.
But Panama City beach did have one saving grace, spring break.
“Whenever you have a couple hundred thousand college kids hanging out on the beach, it really does send a very clear message that there was no oil. Because with the prevalence of facebook and twitter and social media, the college kids would have told the world if there was oil on our beaches and they didn’t.” Rowe said.
“Panama city beach re-bounded back really quickly. The good thing is we really had minimal impact on the beach.” Tourism Board of Directors Member Andy Phillips said.
B-P also stepped up to help the beach recover.
“During the entire BP oil spill, BP has been there, there are local contractors they hired to help keep our beach clean. The way they have worked with the T-V-C in terms of initial claims for loss of tourist development.” Rowe said.
The company also helped the city build back its reputation.
“During the oil spill and then last year we received grants that helped tell the story that Panama City Beach is a great beach destination and folks need to come so we were able to utilize those funds to help tell our story to a broader audience and that’s part of the reason why we were very successful last year.” Rowe said.
Fast forward a year, and the beach is making money again.
“We are still having good customers and hasn’t affected our seafood as far as availability of fresh seafood.” Hooked cook Justin Irwin said.
Irwin is a cook at hooked restaurant in Panama City beach.
He says their clientele has actually grown.
And that's true for other businesses surrounding the beach.
“We are finding new people every day, we are doing surveys inside the park so we are finding new people coming to Panama City Beach.” Shipwreck water park general manager Buddy Wilkes said.
“Our visitors are the true rock stars who came here in the face of certain disaster.” Rowe said.
Disaster that could have been a lot worse for Panama City beach.
Officials say this spring break had the beach packed.
And they are looking forward to bringing even more spring breakers to the area next year.
Tourism officials also say some of their most loyal visitors who came to the beach during the last two years, are from the wiregrass.
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