BILOXI, Miss. (AP) - Officials along the Gulf Coast say tourists are staying away from their beaches and other attractions because they still fear the region is coated in oil. Experts say that perception could take years to overcome and cost billions of dollars.

The BP oil spill has been plugged for weeks. Beaches have been cleaned of crude, and some never had oil wash up at all. Still, officials say the millions they've spent trying to clean up their image hasn't been enough to lure vacationers back.

Geoff Freeman of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit trade group, says it can take years for people's perceptions to change.

The association commissioned a study by the Oxford Economics forecasting group, which found that the disaster could cost the region as much as $23 billion by 2013.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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